Employees not forced to wear masks at Gaithersburg restaurant

Gaithersburg restaurant says its employees won’t be forced to wear masks, despite county order

The Grille at Flower Hill was cited by county inspectors last week

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Logo from The Grille at Flower Hill Facebook page

This story was updated on July 9, 2020, to correct a reference to businesses that the county shut down. The county initially said it shut down a hookah lounge in Silver Spring and another in Rockville. However, the county later said it made a mistake in saying it shut down the Rockville hookah lounge.

The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg said it isn’t making its staff wear face masks, despite what the law says.

Last week, Montgomery County health inspectors visited the restaurant and bar following a complaint that workers weren’t wearing masks — a violation of a recent county order and a state order passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Grille at Flower Hill wrote on its Facebook page Sunday evening that health inspectors visited the restaurant on Thursday in response to a complaint about staff members not wearing face masks and customers sitting too close to each other.

“Let me be very clear … my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen,” the post stated.

“Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.”

In a comment below the post, the restaurant wrote that people are “missing the very premise” of the post.

“You all act like I am physically forcing people to come into my restaurant. Every single person that has dined here had a choice and they all chose to eat here knowing full well the staff was not wearing masks,” it said.

By Monday afternoon, the posts had been removed from the restaurant’s Facebook page. Another post from Sunday stated that the restaurant was closed that day and that “any and all complaints regarding our limited hours of service” should be directed to County Executive Marc Elrich and Gov. Larry Hogan.

Attempts to reach the restaurant through phone calls and emails were unsuccessful on Monday.

People in Montgomery County generally are required to wear face coverings in public due to the coronavirus pandemic. An executive order from County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles on June 18 states that “all county residents over the age of two shall wear face coverings” when they are in public and social distancing is not possible.

Restaurants are among the public places listed on the county’s website where face coverings are required. The only time masks don’t need to be worn is when customers are sitting down, the county’s order states.

The county’s order states that anyone who “knowingly and willfully” violates it is guilty of a misdemeanor, and could face up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Restaurants have been allowed to serve customers at 50% capacity for indoor seating since June 19 under the county’s second phase of reopening.

In response to questions from Bethesda Beat, Gayles wrote in a statement on Monday that the county received a complaint on June 29 about the Grille at Flower Hill. On Thursday, inspectors from the Department of Health and Human Services visited the business and “provided verbal reminder” about the face mask requirement, Gayles wrote.

The county received more complaints about employees at the restaurant not wearing masks on Monday, Gayles wrote.

Mary Anderson, a county spokeswoman, said in an interview on Monday these complaints came in over the weekend in response to the restaurant’s post on Facebook.

Gayles wrote that the restaurant’s normal operating hours are Thursday through Sunday, and inspectors plan to visit the business again this Thursday.

Gayles wrote that “a few” county businesses have not complied with restrictions for reopening.

Anderson said the businesses that have been cited include the Palisades Lounge bar in Silver Spring, as well as a hookah lounge in Silver Spring. The Palisades was shut down, she said, because the restaurant didn’t ensure proper physical distancing and also had a liquor violation.

The hookah bar, Anderson said, was shut down because it isn’t allowed to be open under Phase 2.

Anderson said The Grille at Flower Hill hasn’t been shut down, but that is a possibility if the restaurant is still not complying with the mask order when inspectors return on Thursday. A fine is another possibility, she said.

Last week’s inspection, Anderson said, served as a warning.

“It was a reminder that there is this mandate and if you continue to not follow it, we can take further action,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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