Chef Andrew Gruel fights back against California's outdoor dining restrictions
“If [Governor Newsom] can dine indoors with 22 of his closest friends,” said Andrew Gruel, “I can have my guests dine outdoors, in the beautiful air, absorbing the vitamin D, and enjoying a meal.”
LOS ANGELES - This week, as California logged a record 125,000 new coronavirus infections, and as available ICU beds began to dwindle, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new regional “stay-at-home" orders.
Among the new guidelines was the closure of outdoor dining, a directive which Gruel, executive chef and owner of Slapfish, a seafood chain based out of Huntington Beach, said he will not be following.
On Thursday, Gruel posted a video to social media, defending his position, and pushing back against those “haters” who accused him of being a “grandmother killer” and not taking the virus seriously.
“Do we take this pandemic seriously? Of course, we do. Am I saying we shouldn’t close down outdoor dining? Yes, I am,” Gruel said, adding he had spent thousands on Plexiglas, outdoor heaters and other precautions, only to be ordered to shut down based on “zero scientific evidence that proves that outdoor dining is contributing to a rise in cases.
Following his video’s viral success, Gruel spoke with FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson, expanding on his message to Newsom and the state’s medical experts.
“The main message to the Governor is, to use his own cliche, we’re really all in this together,” Gruel said. “We’re on board here, we’ve been on board since day one. Small businesses, restaurants, retail, we’ve been following every single step along the way, all of the mandates, all of the requirements, only to kind of get the hand to the face at every turn.”
“We’ve followed the science,” Gruel continued. “And what it has shown, based upon both the statistical data and [the Governor’s] anecdotal behavior, is that outdoor dining is not an issue, so don’t make it an issue.”
Gruel was similarly skeptical about the state’s justification for closing outdoor dining, with the state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, having said this week it was “not about how we mix safely, it’s about how we reduce our mixing all together.”
"If he's that serious about that standpoint, then shut down all the government offices, let’s stop airplanes, let’s stop going to Walmart, Target, all the big box stores,” Gruel said. “At the end of the day, we’re intermingling in each one of these little scenarios.”
Beyond a lack of direct scientific support for the claim outdoor dining contributes to additional spread, Gruel also criticized public officials who have, in recent weeks, been caught violating their own restrictions, providing Californians little reason to follow the guidelines themselves.
Among those public officials are Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who both dined at The French Laundry, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who celebrated Thanksgiving with relatives from more households than allowed under state guidelines, and LA County Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, who, hours after voting to shut outdoor dining in Los Angeles, visited her favorite Santa Monica eatery, although, at that point, the ban had yet to go into effect.
That double standard was again on display Friday, when Angela Marsden, owner of the Sherman Oaks-based Pineapple Hill Saloon and Grill, posted a video showing her shuttered outdoor dining patio just feet away from a recently erected dining tent for a nearby film shoot.
On Twitter, where the video was viewed by more than six million people in the first 24-hours, Gruel called the situation “outrageous.”
Given situations like Marsden’s and his own, Gruel ultimately stressed the human cost outdoor dining closures have, especially as the holiday season approaches.
“Me and the family, obviously we want to hold it together, but the family includes the restaurant and all of our restaurant employees, team members, contractors, distributions, the guys who walk in the back door every single day who become your best friends,” Gruel said. “Those people are also losing their jobs, or at risk of losing their jobs.”
With that in mind, Gruel told Michaelson that while he is flattered by the unanticipated response to his video, he hopes leaders who have echoed his sentiments will use the opportunity to “come together and compromise and give small business America something they can use to get to the next step, because we all want this to be done the right way.”
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