The owner of a Montgomery County, Maryland, restaurant who defied orders for its staff to wear masks said his business will remain closed until further notice. And if and when it does reopen, it will likely be under new ownership.
The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg has been in business for nearly seven years. The restaurant’s owner agreed to talk to WTOP, but only if his name was not used.
“Montgomery County feels as though they need to make an example of someone, and I’m not going to be that person,” he said, explaining that a county health inspector had been in touch with him over his decision not to have his staff wear masks.
The owner said he received dozens of death threats since posting a message on the restaurant’s Facebook page on July 5, declaring that his staff would not be wearing masks.
The Facebook message read in part, “If that bothers you, then please try to find something more important to occupy your time, such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen.”
The owner said he posted the message after someone filed a complaint that employees at the restaurant were not wearing masks. The Facebook message referred to that fact and said, “Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.”
The owner said the decision to have employees not wear masks was something he proposed.
“I offered my staff the option of whether or not they wanted to wear the mask. They all took the option of not wearing the mask,” he said, except for one server.
The owner said that was fine with him, and he never pressured any staffer not to wear a mask. “Absolutely not!” he said.
Faced with a notice from the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services that failure to have staff wear masks would put his business in the position of violating health regulations, he said he closed the restaurant on Thursday afternoon — until further notice.
Noting the publicity generated by his now-deleted message on the restaurant’s Facebook page, “I made the decision not to open because I knew it had the potential of being an absolute spectacle.”
He said he was already considering turning over the restaurant’s ownership before the controversy over face coverings at his restaurant erupted.
“I’ve kind of lost the passion for it, it’s kind of become a job for me,” he said.
While there have been social media posts criticizing the business, the owner said he has been hearing from people who support his position — and who want to return to the restaurant.
“People want to come eat,” he said.
He said he’s done a lot of charity work in the community, donating proceeds to various local causes over the years.
“Food is love,” the restaurant’s owner said. “Our main ingredient is to put love in the food,” but he said that the online comments towards him have been hurtful. “It’s sad. It’s unfortunate.”
Asked why masks became an issue for him, he said he finds them uncomfortable and does not believe they do any good.
“I don’t believe they’re medically necessary,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household to reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially when other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain.
Asked if he thinks that the coronavirus is a threat to health, he cites the claim by President Donald Trump that 99% of all coronavirus cases are harmless.
“That is from the President of the United States,” he said. “The regular flu kills way more people,” he said.
In Montgomery County, 717 people have died from coronavirus-related causes, and there have been more than 15,500 cases as of Friday. In Maryland, more than 3,000 have died from it, and more than 71,000 have tested positive.
The owner said he went to Florida a month ago and made several stops.
“I never wore a mask, never. The whole trip. I was more healthy when I came back than when I left.” Saying it’s only his opinion, he said, “I’m not a doctor—I don’t even play one on TV—but people need to be exposed to germs.”
The CDC said that a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 does not show symptoms. Even those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing becoming ill.
Clark Beil, senior administrator for Licensure and Regulatory Services with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said most businesses have complied with the regulations on face coverings for staff and customers.
Beil said an inspector met with the owner of The Grille at Flower Hill, and that if and when the restaurant reopens, “We will probably stop by and just make sure that everything is in order.”
The owner said he expects that under new ownership, employees will likely wear masks — it just won’t happen while he’s in charge.
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