'This isn't about the virus anymore': Restaurant owners react to Wolf's latest order

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Bars and restaurants in York County are grappling with new COVID-19 restrictions from Gov. Tom Wolf just a month after reopening for indoor service.

"This isn’t about the virus anymore," said James DeLisio Jr., owner of Race Horse Tavern in Jackson Township and president of the York County chapter of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

DeLisio said the governor's orders don't make sense if the purpose is to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the new order, alcohol may only be served for on-site consumption if the customer is also eating a meal, and bar service is prohibited for both alcohol and food. All customers must be seated at a table.

"You can go to a table and have a cheeseburger and a beer, but you can’t do it at the bar," DeLisio said. "How does this virus know you’re at a table and not a bar?"

Taking away bar service will cut 50-60% of some bars' and restaurants' revenue, he said.

The governor's order also reduces the number of customers allowed inside at one time.

Under Wolf's green phase restrictions, restaurants were allowed to operate indoors if they practiced social distancing and remained at or below 50% capacity. Now, they must remain at or below 25% capacity.

Most bars and restaurants have to reach 70% capacity just to break even, DeLisio said.

The governor's office did not provide answers to questions about the data or scientific reasoning the governor relied on to write the latest restrictions.

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Co-owner Mandy Arnold, left, and front of the house manager Scot Kile, of The Left Bank, discuss seating as they plan for the weekend closing of the 100 block of North George Street in York City, Thursday, July 9, 2020. Beginning July 16, Gov. Tom Wolf enacted new state restrictions which reduced indoor dining capacity to 25 percent, while allowing alcohol service only when accompanying food orders at table seating, effectively shutting down any establishment that does not offer food. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"This announcement has really been no different than many of the governor’s other announcements, which is more confusion, a lack of clarity," said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township.

Phillips-Hill recalled that a couple of weeks ago, Wolf said he didn't intend to make any more overarching orders, and that Pennsylvania had reached a point where decisions could be made at the local level.

The senator said Thursday she'd been fielding calls all day from business owners worried about losing the money they'd already spent on food for the weekend.

Wolf announced the order Wednesday afternoon, and it went info effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

"These people are fighting for survival," DeLisio said of his fellow bar and restaurant owners. "They have businesses and family legacies and things that have been handed down through the families that they’re trying to preserve."

Karl Spangler has owned Central Family Restaurant in York City for 23 years.

Even under the green phase restrictions, Spangler said, his restaurant was already operating at a little more than 25% capacity because of indoor social distancing requirements.

He said he's fortunate because Central Family Restaurant is well-established in the community, but Spangler said he worries about the newer restaurants.

Gov. Tom Wolf during a visit to the York County Food Bank East York Emergency Food Hub in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I can’t imagine how difficult it must be," he said. "It’s difficult for me, but it’s gotta be even worse on people who are just starting out."

Chuck Moran, president of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said it would have been helpful for bars and restaurants if the governor had given them more time to prepare.

He said most restaurants order their food at the beginning of the week, and that includes the food they plan to sell over the weekend.

Now, with fewer customers, they will likely lose some of the money they spent on supplies, Moran said.

"It’s always frustrating for us because the start and stop scenario that our industry is going through, it’s just not a good situation for anybody," he said.

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