Restaurant association joins Bartolino’s lawsuit challenging St. Louis County dining ban

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Photo by Erin Achenbach

Curbside pickup was open at Helen Fitzgerald’s in Sunset Hills March 18.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

A statewide association of restaurants will join a lawsuit challenging the indoor dining ban that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page ordered to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, joining a lawsuit that South County Italian restaurant Bartolino’s South threatened over the weekend to file. Restaurants will still be able to open for curbside and takeout service, but Page announced the indoor dining ban Friday as part of a series of new public-health restrictions intended to bring down cases of the coronavirus amid a surge in hospitalizations. Page also announced a stay-at-home advisory and a stricter mask mandate as part of the orders.

St. Louis County restaurants were closed to indoor dining for two months in the spring during Page’s previous stay-at-home order. The new announcement prompted South County restaurant Bartolino’s South to post on its Facebook page Saturday, “We, and other Family owned Restaurants in St. Louis County are not going quietly! …  Sam Page’s overreach with the arbitrary closure of indoor dining for county restaurants and bars is irresponsible. The final weeks of the year are consistently one of the most important times of the year for restaurant employees. Our employees are FAMILY, and Sam Page took a direct uppercut towards their livelihood. We have partnered with other local county restaurants to file a lawsuit against Sam Page, and plan to REMAIN OPEN for SAFE Indoor Dining. Please share, and feel free to reach out for ways you can help us join the fight.”

Unlike the indoor dining ban earlier in the year, St. Louis city did not ban indoor dining, and neither have surrounding counties. The indoor dining ban is set to last four weeks.

The Missouri Restaurant Association announced Monday that it will join the legal fight against the St. Louis County directive mandating closure of restaurant dining rooms, a ban the association said had been “issued without due process or an opportunity for public comment as would have been the case if the matter had been brought before the County Council.”

The council attempted to limit Page’s power to issue public-health orders with legislation last month, but Page vetoed the bill and the council did not have enough votes for an override.

Multiple lawsuits were filed against Page and the county challenging his stay-at-home order and business closures in the spring, but all of the lawsuits failed in court. A federal judge ruled in a case filed by House of Pain Gym in Maryland Heights that the county has broad powers to shut down businesses during a public-health crisis like a pandemic, even as other businesses stay open while some have to close. Another lawsuit filed asking for churches to be allowed to open without gathering limits was thrown out of federal court.

“Restaurants in St. Louis County will be devastated by this shutting down of in-person dining. Many industry employees will find themselves out of work with the holidays approaching,” Bob Bonney, CEO of the MRA, said in a statement. “This temporary order will likely result in the permanent closure of many restaurants across the county.”

Unlike the earlier stay-at-home order, Page chose not to close certain retail businesses as nonessential this time around. The MRA objected to that aspect of the new orders as arbitrary: “Restaurants that follow appropriate guidelines related to social distancing, masking and cleaning and sanitizing, are as safe as other retail establishments not ordered to close by the County’s order.”

Bartolino’s has two restaurants in the city of St. Louis that will be allowed to remain open, Bartolino’s Osteria and Chris’ Pancakes.

In a more conciliatory Facebook post Monday, Bartolino’s posted, “We are very sympathetic and compassionate to anyone who has been effected by this horrible virus. Politics should play no role when dealing with COVID. The County Executive order to close off indoor dining in county restaurants without sharing information regarding this decision is certainly troubling to our businesses. Being defiant in the hospitality business is very my much against our core (principles). The well being and safety of every guest and our employees is the center of our core (principles). Our goal is always people first.

“Our restaurants have added the necessary extra safety precautions to our daily procedures. Temperature taking, mandated mask wearing, social distancing, frequent hand washing, increased sanitation procedures have been implemented to help decrease the spread of Covid. If there is added information that our county restaurants are a cause to the increased spread please let us know so we can be a part of the solution and not a part of the horrible spread.”