County Closes Escondido Restaurant, Claims Owner Refused to Comply with Health Order

The county claims the restaurant owner refused to implement COVID-19-related safety protocols for customers and staff

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The Hernandez Hideaway restaurant in Escondido was shut down by the county Thursday in response to the owner's alleged expressed refusal to comply with the county's Public Health Order.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department confirmed deputies served an immediate closure order at the restaurant on behalf of the County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) at around 5:30 p.m.

The closure order details four alleged incidents since May 29 in which deputies or the Department of Environmental Health observed a lack of social distancing, sanitation and facial covering protocols at the restaurant at 19320 Lake Drive.

When the DEH responded to a complaint at the restaurant on June 23, owner Rick Stevens allegedly "admitted that he was not compliant and stated he will continue to operate without these COVID preventative measure and will not require staff to wear face coverings."

Testimony from former customers backed up the county's claim.

“I was the only one with any mask on last time I went over there and actually got ridiculed by another patron for having a mask on. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to submit myself to that,” said nearby resident Kelli Stiles.

The same sentiment was shared be several reviewers on Yelp.

Among the comments:  “No one was wearing a face mask,"... “server was not wearing a mask,”... bartender “gave me flack for wearing a mask,”... “owner boldly stated the only mask they would wear was a Halloween mask.”

Hernandez Hideaway was deemed an imminent health and safety risk and health hazard, according to the HHSA, and was ordered to close immediately Thursday.

Shortly after deputies arrived at the restaurant, a man who identified himself as Stevens showed up and he was served the order to close within 30 minutes.

Tensions eventually blew over and Stevens could be heard yelling at deputies to leave his property.

(Warning: Graphic language) The Owner of the Hernandez Hideaway is seen arguing with the San Diego County Sheriff's deputies who served him an immediate closure order.

"You're not on the right side of this. You guys suck. You 'ought to be ashamed of yourself," he told deputies as he led them out the front door. Another person wearing an apron appeared to be recording the conversation on a cell phone.

The heated conversation continued in the parking lot of the restaurant as Stevens approached a group of deputies.

At one point he could be heard telling a deputy, "So go get the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) and quit being a donkey."

Stevens hurled more insults at deputies while demanding to see documents related to the closure. Minutes later, the group of deputies went back to their vehicles and left.

When an NBC 7 reporter approached Stevens and another woman outside, they said they were served with an order to close the restaurant, but claimed the restaurant was adhering to social distancing and face covering mandates.

Stevens was later seen leading customers to their cars and taking down "open now" signs displayed outside, all while accusing NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 news crews, who were filming from across the street on public property, of biased reporting.

The restaurant will be allowed to reopen if Stevens submits a compliant Restaurant Reopening Plan to the county, according to the HHSA.

Hernandez Hideaway is the second restaurant shut down by the county since dine-in service was phased into the county's reopening plan.

El Prez in Pacific Beach was closed the day after dine-in service returned after videos surface showing "egregious" non compliance.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher talks about how county public health officials shut down PB bar and restaurant El Prez for failing to comply with reopening safety measures.
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