Restaurant Association Organizes Online Protest, Weck’s Dine-In Shut Down

#LetUsServe hashtag gaining steam statewide, but some say it's premature

Albuquerque's KRQE reports this evening that the Santa Fe and Farmington franchise locations of the Weck's restaurant chain have been shut down by the Department of Health following a social media post from its owner, Michael Dennis.

Posting publicly on social media, Dennis said he planned to ignore Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's renewed restrictions on in-person dining, limiting restaurants to patio service at 50% capacity and operate regularly.

According to KRQE, complaints were made to state police earlier today, who say they were unable to reach Dennis. The matter was turned over to the Department of Health, which threatened to pull the restaurant's food permit if it did not comply. Dennis ultimately announced he would comply at both Weck's locations beginning Wednesday, July 15, and released the following statement:

"My heart breaks for our employees. Their livelihoods are at stake and the federal assistance for unemployment is ending. At a time that they were beginning to see a light at the end of a dark season, we are told we can no longer serve indoors. Unfortunately, we have no patios at either of our two restaurants. The decision to remain open was not to be difficult or noncompliant. We requested more time for the Governor to take a balanced approach. Every business is weighing the costs of these closures as PPP funding ended in mid-June, on how to make good on their obligations. We need clear direction on how and when we can operate business successfully in the state of New Mexico. We serve a great state of proud New Mexicans whom we love and appreciate. Even those whom did not agree with our decision. We will be complying with the state public health order beginning tomorrow at both restaurants. We pray that God's blessing and peace would be upon those whom will be laid off with our company and across New Mexico."

Weck's is still offering curbside pickup for to-go orders and will reportedly have a patio dining option available soon for dine-in.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, Pizza Inn restaurants in Carlsbad and Hobbs had permits suspended temporarily after ignoring the governor's orders, as did Carlsbad's Trinity Hotel.

The original story follows:

Did you happen to see the social media post from the owner of the Santa Fe location of Weck's restaurant, Michael Dennis? Promising "defiance" of new state public health orders that restrict restaurants to carry-out and patio service only and presenting erroneous information about "death rates," it looks like this:

It seems Dennis isn't the only one upset over the re-tightening of foodservice in New Mexico, as restaurants across the state have not only stated they'll probably just ignore Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health orders, they've started taking part in a social media-based photo protest coordinated by the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

For the protest, business proprietors looking to continue service pose with signs noting their number of employees and a hashtag pleading #LetUsServe.

Many are from outside Santa Fe, but in our little hamlet, both Kakawa Chocolate House near downtown and The Flying Tortilla on the Southside have signed on. I haven't seen a photo from Weck's yet, but can only assume it's also onboard, at least in spirit.

Anyway, let's take a look at the Santa Fe restaurants that have joined the protest so far:

Of course, the photos don't come without their fair share of detractors. On the Kakawa Chocolate House photo, for example:

Calls to Kakawa Chocolate House were not returned.

The protest is just the latest in a string of actions the NMRA has taken in opposition to the statewide health orders. Last week, it sent a letter to Gov. Lujan Grisham asking her to postpone the renewed restrictions until July 20 to allow for more time to prep and inform employees, and its legal counsel told The Albuquerque Journal on Sunday that it also planned to seek a court order halting the order, though that does not appear to have happened yet.

"We had to wait until the public health order came out, and I don't think that came out until about noon," says Carol Wight, CEO of the NMRA. "I know that the goal was to have it to the court by 5 o'clock today, hopefully it's there. The judge will probably not decide on anything today."

Regardless, the protest and lawsuit threats have unnerved at least one sitting board members of the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association, the NMRA's one chapter outside of Albuquerque: Natalie Bovis, a board member for two years and, full disclosure, a former regular SFR columnist before my tenure as culture editor, resigned this morning over what she believes are premature moves made by the NMRA.

"I resigned because I realized that my personal conviction and political points of view were being infringed upon when the CEO made it very clear that all board members in Santa Fe were to fall in line and support their protest and suing Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham," Bovis tells SFR. "I tried to speak up as a voice for hospitality professionals—anyone who works in a restaurant—because these are the people who come face to face with COVID-19 every day, and they should not be in a position of putting their lives at risk. It came to a point where I decided my dues money would not be well-distributed considering [NMRA's] deeply conservative political agenda."

Wight tells SFR that since Bovis does not own a restaurant, she can't fully grasp the realities of the situation.

"What I said was, the decision had already been made by the full board of the NMRA," Wight says, "and this was all happening very quickly. The Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association didn't even have a meeting scheduled until Tuesday—that's tomorrow. We had to make a lot of decisions quickly, and here's the situation, and it's always like this—if they don't own a restaurant, they can't feel what it is to own a restaurant, to once again lay off all of your employees, to figure out how you're going to open your doors again or if you're doing to open your doors again."

Wight tells SFR she owned three restaurants in Las Cruces before taking the job with the NMRA.

And Bovis, who runs The Liquid Muse website dedicated to cocktails and mixology, does operate the annual summertime Cocktails and Culture Festival, along with its popular food event Taco Wars. She says she's been forced to cancel this year due to the pandemic and plans to postpone until Oct. 4 this year—aka National Taco Day—depending on how the year shakes out.

Meanwhile, SFR today received an unsolicited email from Red River Brewery employee Bryce Flanagan, who writes that he's "been mocked by people traveling cross-country during a global pandemic for wearing a mask. I've listened to people talk about how our governor needs to be shot for daring to enforce restrictions to save lives. I've seen my boss flaunt regulations while enforcing them on his employees, while having the gall to call us 'family.'"

Flanagan goes on to say that he and his coworkers were all onboard for Lujan Grisham's return to restrictions and are scared about the future.

"We want protections to be enforced. We want tourists to stop abusing our state's over-generous leniency," he writes. "We want hazard pay correlating with the danger we're put in. We want respect. We don't want to serve, we want to live."

"I get it," Wight says in response. "There's going to be people out there who think we're all profit and no people—but I've had more than one restauranteur tell me that as they were watching the gov's press conference with their employees, their employees were weeping, because they knew the next step was for that employer to lay them off. 50% [capacity] was keeping our doors open. We're not going to be able to eke by anymore because we don't have any more savings."

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