Judge rules against P.O. restaurant owner over COVID

PORT ORCHARD – That One Place restaurant has lost its appeal of COVID-19-related fines totaling $132,000 levied by the state for serving patrons indoors when such service was barred by a mandate issued by Gov. Jay Inslee.

An administrative judge deemed each of the 11 instances cited by the state for conducting improper dine-in service as willful violations.

Restaurant owner Craig Kenady has 20 days to file for a review of Wednesday’s decision by Judge Jeffery A. Friedman of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, according to state Labor and Industries spokeswoman Dina Lorraine.

If no review is sought, the decision will be final. L&I investigated That One Place and cited the establishment for the reported COVID violations.

Kenady declined comment on the ruling.

The judge’s decision brings the battle between Kenady and L&I one step closer to a conclusion.

An L&I investigation resulted in That One Place being cited 11 times between Jan. 6 and Jan. 18, 2021, for reportedly serving customers indoors in violation of health regulations and Inslee’s mandate, according to the ruling.

The case centered on whether the restaurant’s indoor area where customers were served was the equivalent of outside dining. Outdoor service had been authorized by the state under certain circumstances.

Kenady had taken steps to improve air circulation in the restaurant, but those efforts were not enough to consider the space as an outdoor seating area, the court found.

An exception to the indoor dining ban was outlined in the guideline, “Open Air Guidance,” drafted by the governor’s office, according to the judge’s 14-page ruling. The guidance stated that a well-ventilated indoor space could be considered outdoor seating.

The guideline stated that space inside a building would be treated as outdoor dining if it had at least one “permeable wall” that “does not significantly impede natural air flow,” according to the judge’s ruling. Examples of an acceptable permeable wall included open bay doors or tent panels.

During the trial it was shown that Kenady attempted to comply with the spirit of the state open-air guidance by taking a number of steps to improve airflow, the judge said.

The restaurant owner made attempts to improve airflow by installing filters in the heating and cooling system and placing fans at each of the establishment’s four rear doors, the judge noted. In addition, the restaurant used its large kitchen hood to extract air and kept bathroom fans running.

Kenady also restricted maximum seating capacity and limited parties to four unless they included family members. Employees wore masks and servers donned gloves, and extra time was spent sanitizing tables between guests, Friedman added.

Industrial hygienist Kevin Headd, who testified on Kenady’s behalf, said efforts taken by That One Place to comply with the guidelines created a situation that “essentially is the same as outdoor dining.”

Ultimately, Friedman did not buy Kenady’s position. “The guidelines do not allow a restaurant to substitute mechanical ventilation for permeable walls,” the judge wrote.

“Mr. Kenady did not have a malicious motive or cavalier attitude toward employee safety … However, he was aware that indoor dining was not allowed unless he complied with the Open Air Guidance. Rather than comply with that guidance, he created his own method of improving ventilation … That One Place committed a willful violation of the eleven cited violations,” the judge wrote.

Following the ruling, L&I spokesman Matt Ross said in a written statement: “It would have been far better if [That One Place] never put their workers and customers at risk during some of the worst times of the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, they chose a different road, and today’s decision reaffirms that the owner was clearly aware of what he was doing when he ignored common sense safety and health measures.”

On the restaurant’s Facebook site, it simply says, “We lost.”

An earlier post says, “While fighting this fine was the right thing to do, it has been an expensive endeavor. We have started a fundraiser on Givesendgo to help pay for the remainder of our attorneys fees. Please donate if you can, if not please feel free to stop by and leave us a prayer.”