A Vale restaurant owner was cited on Monday, May 18 for violating N.C. Executive Order 138 which went into effect on May 8. Under this executive order, sit-down food or beverage service is prohibited under, however, restaurants were allowed to remain open as long as food and beverages were consumed off premises. The executive order is set to expire on Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m. Until then, it’s to be enforced by state and local enforcement officers and a violation may be punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Lincoln County Commissioners Chairman Carrol Mitchem and owner of Mitchem’s Kitchen in Vale defied the order and opened his restaurant to sit-down customers on Monday. He stated that when he learned of the lawsuit which allowed for churches to reopen last Sunday, he decided his time had come to take stand.
“I don’t think they (the churches) should have ever been closed,” he said. “They always talked about church and state being separated. You can be hunkered down, and I’ve done that, but the time had come that I thought I should make a stand.”
Mitchem added that he hoped other restaurants would follow suit and open as well.
“I understand certain things may happen to you if you open up, but united we stand or divided we fall,” he said. “It’s all about choices. If the church is open, then you have a choice whether you go or not. People have a choice here at my restaurant. If they want to come and eat, that’s good and if not, I understand.”
Staff at the restaurant were not wearing face masks on Monday, which is something that Mitchem said they were addressing.
“Which story do I believe about wearing a mask,” he asked. “Some say it’s good and some say it’s not worth anything.”
Mitchem didn’t have long to wait to open legally. North Carolina may enter into Phase 2 of Cooper’s three-part reopening plan on Friday, May 22 at 5 p.m. If that is the case, limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services and other businesses that can follow safety protocols, including the potential need to reduce capacity will be allowed.
During the telephone interview on Monday, Mitchem said that he didn’t know what the second phase was and that “he (Cooper) hasn’t shown a second phase” but that he did take out two tables and eight chairs from the restaurant.
At a ReopenNC Lincoln County rally held on May 2, Mitchem, who is also running for re-election to the board of commissioners this year, stated that as far as his business (the restaurant), he’d been fortunate because they had a drive through, and business has been good.
After receiving complaints from the general public, Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam said that he while he knew Mr. Mitchem “very well” (Beam served with Mitchem on the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners) he wasn’t going to ignore his opening the restaurant and was investigating the matter.
A citation was issued to Mitchem for openly violating N.C. Executive Order 138 prior to the Board of Commissioner’s meeting which was held Monday evening. Mitchem has a court date scheduled for Sept. 9. Violation may be punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“I may not personally approve of all the emergency orders issued by Gov. Cooper, but North Carolina General Statute allows provisions for Gov. Cooper to issue orders during a State of Emergency,” Beam said in a press release. “N.C. General Statute 166A states, ‘local law enforcement shall enforce these orders.’”
Beam stated via telephone on Tuesday that he would do nothing further on the matter and didn’t plan on forcing the restaurant to shut down.
When approached for comment via email, Lincoln County Public Health Director, Davin Madden said that he wanted it to be clear that local public health has no jurisdiction or enforcement authority regarding executive orders issued by the governor, including the closure of restaurants.
“Even so, I did visit Mitchem’s Kitchen today to observe public activities,” he said. “In the short time I was there, including time inside the restaurant, I did not see anything that would constitute an imminent health hazard or an unnecessary threat to the public. I will continue to monitor events and evaluate for the best interest of our community as a whole.”
Mitchem’s Kitchen is located at 6679 West Highway 27 in Vale.