San Diego County

Encinitas Restaurant Trying to Follow Rules, Caught in Middle of Mask Debate

NBCUniversal, Inc.

While the debate over face masks rages on, restaurants and small businesses who have to follow the rules or face shut downs are caught in the middle. Nowhere is this more true than at GOODONYA Organic Eatery in Encinitas.

The restaurant decided to close its doors before county health leaders forced them to because the wait staff needed a break from angry customers unwilling to comply with the restaurant’s rules.

GOODONYA reopened three weeks ago with table service in the parking spaces out front. Owner Kris Buchanan’s says policing the unmasked has been a headache ever since.

“Short of literally hiring a bouncer... You know, sometimes people just don't listen to us,” Buchanan said.

Even after moving 11 tables outside, Buchanan and her servers are getting grief from customers who refuse to a wear a mask for the few minutes they are inside to place an order.

“People get frustrated and they feel like their rights are being taken away when we are just trying to keep everyone healthy," said server Mary Jane Hrovat.

Buchanan says the restaurant is also facing harsh criticism online, including from people on the other side of the debate. Some have gone as far as posting pictures of unmasked diners mixed and unmasked pedestrians passing by while criticizing the restaurant’s efforts to do it’s part.

“You put your heart and soul in your business and you care so much, so it’s hard to have confrontations like that and see people so unhappy,” Buchanan explained.

One customer, who doesn’t feel like masks are necessary, tries to be sympathetic and work around GOODONYA’s rules.

“Try to be sensitive to other people that feel it is important,” customer Rebecca Ramirez said. “I don't feel like it’s that important to me to always wear a mask."

There’s no debating that there are strong opinions on both sides. But somewhere in the middle GOODONYA is trying to keep its staff safe and its doors open for a future beyond the ill affects COVID-19.

“Just put the mask on and order, then you can take it off when you sit down,” Hrovat said. “It's pretty easy and keeps our job easier. We don't feel like we are ruining someone’s day."

GOODONYA’s next step is to create a less exposed dining experience, something more like an enclosed deck space, but that will require city approval.

Buchanan also said when those who are in charge of enforcing the health code don't cite violators, it's more difficult for businesses to police their customers. 

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