FLORENCE, Ore. -- Another Lane County restaurant is the subject of an Oregon Occupational Safety and Health investigation after the restaurant reopened for indoor dining, despite a ban instituted by Governor Kate Brown.
On Thursday morning, less than a dozen people were seated for breakfast inside Little Brown Hen Cafe on Highway 101 in Florence.
Under Brown's framework for extreme risk counties like Lane County, indoor dining is banned, and outdoor dining is limited to 50 people.
In an emailed statement, owner Stacey Brown Wilson said she was faced with a difficult decision.
“It was either open and try to salvage my business and my employees lively hood or close the doors permanently,” Wilson wrote. “We are simply trying to survive. For those who presume I don’t care about my community they couldn’t be more mistaken.”
Wilson called the decision “difficult” and said her actions are not intended to make a statement about the state or governor’s authority, but said she is exercising a constitutional right to run a business.
Reaction to the news among Florence residents was mixed, with some applauding the move and others calling it irresponsible.
“At some point the restaurants are going to have to open up. I don’t know how they can stay in business. It’s been almost a year since we’ve limited their ability to run businesses,” said Betty Ann Blachowicz, a Florence resident.
On Thursday, Brown released a statement in response to defiance of her orders.
“If businesses reopen too early and instead create new spikes in COVID-19 cases, the actions of a few business owners could set entire communities back and keep them in the Extreme Risk category for even longer” Brown said.
Brown reminded businesses that she has instructed OSHA and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to enforce her orders through citations, fines and red warning notices.
A spokesman for OSHA confirmed the agency has received multiple, recent complaints regarding the cafe and an investigation is underway.
“I think it’s irresponsible to put other people at risk and give them a potentially fatal disease,” said Mark Immel, Florence resident. “I think it’s a really bad idea. I can certainly understand peoples economic woes in this time but you know so many of us have to just had to pivot and do business a different way.”
Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bettina Hannigan said businesses have been backed into a corner and are feeling desperate.
“I think there’s a lot of desperation. There’s a lot of unfairness going on. Some people can reopen. Some people can’t. Right now, I understand some of our counties south of us have opened, so our people here in Florence who want to eat, instead of eating here locally they’re going to drive down to Coos Bay and eat in Coos Bay. How fair is that?” Hannigan said.
A request for comment from the Florence Police Department and Lane County Sheriff's Office was not immediately returned.
Read the cafe’s full statement below:
"This is not a decision I made lightly. I didn't open my restaurant as a statement, or to be in defiance of Governor Brown's "mandate". I am simply exercising my Constitutional right to run my business. I have spent the last nine months complying. It was a difficult decision to re-open. It was either open and try to salvage my business and my employees lively hood or close the doors permanently. We follow strict safety protocols, and have the utmost respect for our customers health and well being. We are simply trying to survive. For those who presume I don’t care about my community they couldn’t be more mistaken we have always supported our community in numerous ways and will continue to do so. Covid is real we are not denying that and of course we do not want it to spread in our community. We are even being more diligent than we previously were to help prove that Covid doesn’t spread only in restaurants in the hopes that many more will be able to open safely."
Stacey Brown Wilson, Owner of Little Brown Hen Cafe