A local brewery started serving in-person customers at three of its San Diego locations on Wednesday in defiance of public health orders.
Mike Hess Brewing, which is anchored by its North Park tasting room and brewery, also has sites in IB and OB, all of which were serving patrons this week, despite state and local public health orders. Under current restrictions, restaurants and breweries are only permitted to conduct to-go sales.
"Today, we are opening to the public and invite our friends and fans to come in and safely enjoy a well-crafted beer and conversation and exercise your rights — as we exercise ours — to a peaceful protest and assembly as we get America back to work," the company posted on its social media on Wednesday.
The business, which said it has spent the past 10 months abiding by local, state and federal regulations, maintains that it is providing an essential service and "has the same right to work as employees of any other business, large or small." Furthermore, the company argues that the pandemic restrictions have been "issued without regard for our constitutional rights, the document that governs this land."
Company co-founder Mike Hess told NBC 7 on Thursday that since the reopening, the business has had only one official contact, and that was an email from Andy Hall, the city manager of Imperial Beach. According to Hess, the email -- which also cc'd Serge Dedina, IB's mayor -- stated that the tasting room was a valued asset of the community but that if it was open in violation of the public health orders, the city would possibly reconsider the location's streetside dining area and look at its business license.
Hess said he did not reply to Hall personally, instead forwarding the email to his attorney, Mike Curran, a lawyer Hess said was also representing restaurants, salons, breweries and gyms resisting the health orders. Hess paraphrased Curran's response, saying that, in effect, Curran said, "Mr. Hall, we got your letter, thank you. This is a county and state issue, not a city issue."
Curran, Hess said, has not yet heard back from any officials from the South Bay City.
Asked for a comment regarding Hess Brewing's decision to reopen its San Diego locations and whether the county planned a response regarding it, San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman on Friday replied with a terse, "We are aware."
Hess maintains that "orders issued by the governor, the mayor, the county board of health, are not laws. Laws go through legislatures. We are trying to act lawfully."
Since state-of-emergencies have been enacted due to the pandemic, however, Gov. Gavin Newsom and public health officials, do have some authority to enact temporary orders in the name of protecting citizens, though several lawsuits are challenging that authority
So what would Hess tell critics who say he's helping spread the virus?
"The short answer is: Show me the proof, but you can also point to [county public health officer] Wilma Wooten, who has said there is no nexus between outside dining and COVID spread."
Hess also cited a statement made by Dr. Mark Ghaly, the California Health and Human Services Agency secretary, who stated that restaurants were being closed to keep people "at home, not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining." Hess also pointed to big-box stores remaining open as an example of one business sector being favored over another. Unlike at big-box stores, of course, diners at restaurants who are eating and drinking are unable to keep masks on the entire time they are patronizing a business.
In December, KPBS published county records showing what county leaders have long preached, however: that restaurants have reported a good chunk of outbreaks. But those same records also showed a lot of outbreaks at places allowed to stay open, like big-box stores.
Customers at Mike Hess Brewing are still expected to follow all the recommended safety protocols that were in place prior to being shut down by the state's stay-home order that was initially put in place in early December.
If and when Hess gets a cease-and-desist order and/or fines, he said he plans to fight it legally.
"That's the whole point with us aligning ourselves with Curran & Curran," Hess told NBC 7, referring attorney Mike Curran's law firm. "They have agreed to, if it comes to fines and other legal issues, they've agreed to defend us in court pro bono."
NBC 7 asked Hess for a copy of the email correspondence between Imperial Beach and his attorney but has not yet received it. -- Ed.