By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Diners once again need to slip on face masks as they head inside their favorite restaurant.
With the wave of COVID cases on the rise here and across the nation, largely due to the highly transmissible delta variant, Gov. Jay Inslee has called for patrons to return wearing masks when heading indoors.
The return of mask-wearing indoors has received mixed reviews from some Port Orchard restaurant owners.
“I wasn’t surprised by the mask mandate. Inslee has found a way to control the majority of the people in our state; he’s not going to just relinquish his control,” said Craig Kenady, owner of That One Place restaurant.
Kenady has been long been a vocal opponent of Inslee’s COVID regulations. Currently, he faces $132,000 in state fines, which he is appealing, for allegedly serving customers indoors at a time restaurants were only to provide take-out or outdoor service.
“Masking faces is an ancient Islamic way of forced submission; it’s designed to take away one’s idea of personal freedom and allowing for control,” Kenady stated.
“I don’t believe the mask mandate is effective. As you can see by the daily updates from KCHD [Kitsap County Health District], the masks do not prohibit the communication of this virus. In fact, by the dramatic increase in cases, it does quite the opposite,” he said.
The owner of Home Made Cafe, Suanne Martin Smith, meanwhile, has no issue with the return of the mask mandate.
“I wasn’t surprised because the number of cases is going up,” Martin Smith said. She feels the governor’s move was justified based on the need to stop the spread of COVID, particularly to young people and the elderly.
“It seems selfish to not think about others. If you don’t want to wear a mask, then don’t go out. You don’t have to eat out,” she said.
Customer reaction to the mask requirement seems to depend on the restaurant, according to the owners.
“We have customers that come all day, every day, that are wearing masks and that aren’t,” Kenady reported. “That is a personal choice. Not my choice or the government’s choice. Washingtonians are getting tired of all of the attempted control that doesn’t seem to change the outcome.”
Martin Smith noted, “Our customers are awesome. They seem to care about what is happening and are complying. They have still been coming out to eat and follow the rules. If they don’t have (a mask) they go back to the car and get one.”
One point the two business owners do agree on is the pandemic has led to higher operating costs.
Food costs have increased a third to 50 percent, Martin Smith said. For example, quality meats, such as bacon, country ham and corned beef has gone up over 25 percent while cooking oil has nearly doubled, she said.
Kenady said: “Overall, the pandemic hasn’t negatively affected us until recently with the runaway inflation and food shortages caused by free rent and free government money.”
Another impact of the pandemic on the Home Made Cafe has been the inability of the business to hire enough staff, a situation Martin Smith said was created by high unemployment benefits.
“We can’t find quality staff, that’s been our problem. It’s not been the mask mandate,” Martin Smith said. She said people are choosing not to work because attractive unemployment benefits have discouraged them from seeking employment.
The labor shortage led her restaurant to reduce the number of days it is open. Pre-COVID, the restaurant was open Tuesday through Sunday. Currently, the doors are only open Thursday to Sunday — the “money days,” as she labels them.
The governor’s mask decision, which went into effect Aug. 23, requires everyone over the age of 5 to wear face masks in most public indoor settings such as restaurants, grocery stores and malls, regardless of their vaccination status. Masks are “strongly recommended” in crowded outdoor settings like sporting events, fairs and concerts where physical distancing is not possible.
In response to the surge of local cases in Kitsap County, the county health district has reopened COVID-19 testing sites at the City of Bremerton’s Harborside garage and City of Poulsbo’s garage. Testing also remains available at pharmacies and clinics throughout Kitsap County. For additional locations, go to kitsapgov.com.