Michael Cherney and his wife, Sarah Cherney, opened their own restaurant called peasants FEAST in Solvang on April 1 this year, and now they’re being told by the state that they can’t eat in it.
On Dec. 10, Mr. Cherney received a notice of violation from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for “violation of the Governor’s regional stay at home order.”
In the comments, the state official wrote that six customers were observed eating/drinking/being served while seated inside the premises.
The six customers were Mr. Cherney, his wife and four of his employees, and in a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Mr. Cherney said they were all at separate tables, some eating, some not, and no alcohol was involved.
“Fellow restaurant friends and family, please learn from our mistakes,” Mr. Cherney wrote in the post. “No one is allowed to eat or drink inside your restaurant or on your patio. Nowhere on your property is anyone allowed to eat or drink anything but water. This includes employees and owners. During regular business hours or after hours. So now, we take turns, eating on the curb, alone. …”
The Cherney’s restaurant has never been open to the public — staff has served strictly to-go food since its opening.
“We’ve never used plates, never opened up the dining room to guests and we’ve always followed all the rules,” Mr. Cherney told the News-Press. “We have signs posted everywhere. One hundred percent compliance.”
He explained that the employees are also very close family friends who work in close quarters, including his sister-in-law.
“Not only was she family, but she was culinary family, too,” he said.
The family dinner that resulted in the violation occurred on Wednesday, Dec. 10, but Mr. Cherney said he didn’t receive the violation in the mail until the following Thursday, and no official contacted him or approached the restaurant in person.
The co-owner called the ABC and left voicemails, receiving no response, and eventually went to a local compliance agent in order to contact someone at the ABC.
“If you’re so concerned about safety and citing someone for not being safe, why are you going to let it go on for an entire week when you could’ve said something?” Mr. Cherney asked.
He said he and his family were told that nobody is allowed to eat on the premises, even in their extended patio that wraps around the building, which requires them to eat on the street corner.
The Cherneys live 15 miles from the restaurant in Los Alamos, and they bring their two children to work since they’re learning remotely.
“Now, unfortunately, they (his children) have been eating their lunch in my car,” Mr. Cherney said. He added that he hasn’t eaten at work in four days because he can’t afford to run out of the property in case an order comes in.
When asked if he believes this violation had anything to do with the previous Solvang City Council’s statement refusing to enforce the stay-at-home order, he said, “100%.”
“I’ve worked in the Valley for almost 10 years now. The health department has come to my restaurant maybe four times total, and they’re supposed to come once a quarter,” Mr. Cherney said.
The restaurant owner hopes to educate the rest of the restaurant community with his story and prevent other small businesses from getting violations or fines.
“These people have the power to shut down our entire business, and that’s why we’re not fighting it more,” Mr. Cherney said. “We did what we could, they said, ‘No, you’re still wrong,’ and we said, ‘OK, we’re sorry, we messed up, we take responsibility.’”