CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The owner of a burger joint in Cheyenne has defied public health orders in Wyoming issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing he had to do so to stay in business and keep his staff employed.
Sanford's Grub and Pub has a sign posted in front of its door that calls safety regulations "unconstitutional" and says the business "is NOT following social distancing mandates," The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported Wednesday.
The sign adds the restaurant is not following capacity and seating restrictions or mask requirements for customers, but that employees wear masks.
"The reason why we put the sign up there was to let anybody know that's coming in, 'If you're not comfortable with coming into our restaurant, then don't come in, because this is what we're doing,'" owner James Yates said. He added that several other local restaurants and bars are also not following coronavirus prevention health orders.
The state's public health order requires restaurants to maintain at least six feet of distance between people seated at different tables and allows for no more than six people at a table if those customers are from different households.
Yates argued the order is inconsistent, saying it does not require social distancing at booths, only tables. Yates said he consulted with his general manager and employees and that they determined noncompliance with the order was the only option to avoid layoffs.
"I didn't do this for any reason, except for the fact that if I don't do it, I can't pay my bills .. and I'm not going to lay off any more of these hardworking employees that worked for me," Yates said.
Yates said the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department has visited the restaurant and first issued a written warning before threatening he could lose his liquor license for two weeks.
Yates said the consequences also were inconsistent because the order allows for fines up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail.
Roy Kroeger, the environmental health director for the county health department, said the health department talked with Yates after receiving several complaints from customers about the lack of mask usage and social distancing.
Kroeger also confirmed that a liquor license suspension was brought up during their discussions in part because the county district attorney's office is unwilling to prosecute any cases.
Kroeger said he is working with Cheyenne City Attorney Michael O'Donnell to determine next steps. O'Donnell did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.