In a heartbreaking exchange shared on social media Monday, a restaurant owner in Southern California confronted government health officials who reportedly issued him a citation for staying open after being given a closure order.
“I followed the rules!” pleaded Ventura small business owner Anton Van Happen. “I continued to follow the rules and you guys still, time after time, are giving me citations. … Are you gonna pay my rent?”
Van Happen, owner of Nick the Greek, put up protest signs last week, urging other local restauranteurs to flout the government’s unconstitutional orders. He said at the time he is issuing a call “to all restaurant owners to open your restaurants,” KEYT-TV reported.
“If we all open up,” he said, “they can’t do anything.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has issued unilateral decrees banning all indoor and outdoor dining, demanding restaurants only serve customers via take-out and delivery.
When Newsom first issued his dictate, Van Happen moved his tables and chairs outside, giving patrons a space to sit — if they so chose — after purchasing take-out food. He did not, however, serve people sitting at those tables. As a result, Ventura health officials ordered the small business owner to close his restaurant.
Government inspectors returned this week and issued another citation to Van Happen, telling him he is breaking “the law” by serving customers without a permit. He had since moved his tables and chairs back inside and has only served customers via take-out and delivery.
The female inspector told Van Happen, “There is a law that you’re breaking right now by operating without a permit.”
“Because you guys put this closure on my restaurant,” the impassioned small business owner said. “So you guys yourselves are creating your own rule. And you’re giving out citations for your own rule that’s created. It’s not by law that you cannot sit outside and eat; that’s not law — that’s a form that I was given. So you can have people that pulled your citation based on that.”
The male inspector, totally ignoring Van Happen’s concerns, told him his restaurant is “already” closed and said his “refusal” to stop doing business “warrants a description.”
“Because what am I going to do if I close?” Van Happen asked. “Are you going to pay my rent?”
Earlier in the exchange, he told the government workers he is, in fact, obeying all of the governor’s executive orders: “I’m not following the rules? My tables are inside. Just because the Health Department has a whole process to go through that takes however long that takes, I have to close my business for that time? Who’s gonna — are you gonna pay my rent? Are you gonna pay my rent?”
“You chose to make those decisions,” replied the female inspector.
The male inspector also made clear he has no intention of helping Van Happen pay his bills.
The Nick the Greek owner has been met with quite a bit of support from conservatives on social media who have defended his right to operate his small business freely: