The Grille at Flower Hill closes over coronavirus mask requirement

The Grille at Flower Hill closes indefinitely after owner protests mask requirement

Did not force employees to wear masks, despite county, state executive orders

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The Grille at Flower Hill near Gaithersburg has closed indefinitely

Logo from the Grille at Flower Hill Facebook page

The owner of the Grille at Flower Hill near Gaithersburg says he is tired of defending his decision to let his workers not wear masks, and is closing his restaurant indefinitely. He said he will step away from the restaurant and possibly turn it over to someone else to operate.

The owner, who asked not to be identified out of fear for his safety, told Bethesda Beat in an interview on Thursday that he received more than 30 death threats and other vitriolic messages after posting on Facebook this week that he wouldn’t force his employees to wear facemasks.

“My bartender has shown interest in taking the restaurant over. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m done,” the owner said. “I’m tired of fighting it. I’m tired of arguing with people who don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with the restaurant. But for now, the restaurant’s closed,” he said. “If my employees can’t work without masks, which is what they want, we’re not gonna open.”

Both Gov. Larry Hogan and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich have issued executive orders that mandate wearing masks in most public places.

The county’s executive order specifically requires people in restaurants to wear masks and 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.

Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services sent an inspector to The Grille over the July 4 weekend after receiving a complaint about workers at the restaurant not wearing masks. Spokeswoman Mary Anderson said in an interview Thursday that inspectors had planned to come back that day, but the restaurant had closed.

After the owner’s public post about refusing to force employees to wear masks, the county planned to return on Thursday of this week for another inspection, but the restaurant did not reopen.

Elrich, in a statement on Thursday, said that 20 business ambassadors, who are normally code inspectors, have visited more than 2,000 businesses to make sure they are following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Elrich said 96% of businesses have complied with the safety restrictions, but “a few” haven’t, and in those cases the county has closed the businesses.

“They repeatedly allowed customers and their employees to break rules and put those people — and all of the people and the family members they encounter — in danger,” he said.

The Grille’s owner, who opened the restaurant seven years ago, said Thursday that he doesn’t require his workers to wear masks because it’s uncomfortable and he worries about the possibility of workers fainting from oxygen deprivation. (Actually, the claim that masks cause unhealthy levels of oxygen deprivation has largely been debunked by medical experts.)

“If my chef is on the line and his oxygen in his blood level dropped to a level where he faints, he could faint into 375-degree oil. He could faint into a huge knife. He could faint into all kinds of things,” he said.

The owner said he doesn’t think he has to follow either the state or county order because they aren’t permanent laws passed by legislative bodies.

“Who gave Gov. Hogan this power to tell me whether or not to tell a mask? Where is it in the Constitution? Where is it in the Maryland constitution? It doesn’t exist,” he said.

Rather, he said, he takes cues from President Donald Trump, who falsely claimed this week that 99% of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless.”

“That’s from the president of the United States, based on science. Who am I to not agree with the president of the United States? He has access to the greatest scientists in the world,” he said.

The owner said he posted on Facebook because he thought it was ridiculous that someone complained to the county about his business. He said he was shocked by the death threats and the amount of vitriol he received.

The owner said he wants people to know that he “isn’t a monster” and is a “nice guy” who regularly donates to local charities and doesn’t receive a salary.

“Yet I’m ostracized and portrayed as a monster just because I allowed my employees not to wear a mask. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I’m a good guy. I’m an outstanding guy. And what these people said about me, I pray for them.”

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

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