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Fear of losing alcohol license keeps many Madras restaurants shut down during freeze

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Andres Escalante, owner of Mi Casa Restaurant in Madras, has chosen to follow state restaurant shutdown mandates due to COVID spread concerns. Many local restaurant owners are concerned about the potential of losing their alcohol-sales license if they opened. Escalante believes staying closed to indoor dining is the right thing to do at this point.

Business has been "wonderful" since the Black Bear Diner reopened Dec. 28 to indoor dining, despite a state mandate to limit service to take-out only, according to owner Joe Davis.

And contrary to rumors, Davis said the restaurant has not been fined, although health officials have visited.

Other restaurants in Jefferson County seem to be abiding by the state mandate, each citing their own reasons. A key reason: they don't want to endanger their licenses to sell alcohol. Black Bear does not sell alcohol and didn't have to consider the potential of losing a license to do so.

Larry Semm owns the Desert Inn Sports Bar and Grill in Metolius. He's serving people on his patio and lawn, and stokes fires and heaters to keep customers warm, but he won't open to indoor dining, "because I was told by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) they would take my license off the wall and I couldn't apply for another year."

Semm says he's in a good place financially because he owns the restaurant and doesn't have to pay rent like some other restaurants. "I could stay closed for two or three years. I'm more concerned about my employees. If they go someplace, how am I going to get them back?"

Semm says he's keeping the restaurant open to keep his employees working.

"I think the county should decide whether restaurants can open, not the governor," says Semm.

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Eulalia Burgos, right, owns La Cabanita, a Madras restaurants that has remained closed to in-house dining. Pictured with her is her granddaughter, Katlyn Salgado.La Cabanita only offers take-out orders. "Some days we have only two or three customers," says owner Eulalia Burgos through her 12-year-old granddaughter and interpreter Katlyn Salgado. Burgos says their business will survive on her husband's pension. She would not consider breaking coronavirus restrictions, waving her hands fearfully. "I don't want a ticket!"

Down the street at Mi Casa, chairs are stacked on the tables. Owner Andres Escalante agrees with the COVID restrictions. He doesn't believe it's safe to serve people indoors, despite the effect on his bottom line. "This month was really bad. We only made $200 a day." Escalante says his business will survive on the money he saved during better times.

Jennifer DuPont plans to open Wild Winds Station Jan. 7, but for take-out and outdoor dining only, although she supports Davis' decision to open the Black Bear Diner to indoor seating.

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER
 - Jennifer DuPont, owner of Wild Winds Station, has remained closed to in-house dining."On a personal level, I wholehearted support the rights of businesses to open. As a business owner, I'm bound by state mandates." Like Semm, DuPont doesn't want to risk losing her OLCC license. She's been closed since mid-November and says she'll probably lose money opening now.

"But at least I'm employing my employees and doing what I can to help them." DuPont sees a double standard, "Why can everybody touch the vegetables I buy at the store, or sit in an airplane like sardines, but restaurants can't serve people indoors?"

Others who the newspaper spoke to on the issue were not happy with Davis' decision to fully reopen against the state mandate. There no doubt are many in the Jefferson County community who are uncomfortable with the opening in light of increased COVID cases and deaths in the region and certainly throughout the nation and planet.

Judy Embanks, of Madras, has reported restaurants that have opened against the rules. "I'm concerned because the virus is not going to stop. I do not believe that we are safe yet. I will feel safer if our numbers slow down."

Meanwhile, the parking lot is full at the Black Bear Diner. Davis said, "People want to decide what's right for them."


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