2021 | Government

County cites Clarksburg Tavern for COVID violations after Ficker event

Photos showed people not social distancing or wearing masks inside

Clarksburg Tavern has been cited by Montgomery County health inspectors for multiple violations following an event held earlier this month by gubernatorial candidate Robin Ficker. Photos of the event showed people not wearing masks and not social distancing.

File photo

Montgomery County’s health department has issued four citations to Clarksburg Tavern following an event this month hosted by attorney and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Robin Ficker.

Photos from the event showed multiple people eating in the restaurant, not wearing face coverings and not social distancing.

Ficker hosted the event, called “USA THEMED PARTY,” on Jan. 5. Invitations indicated that it was in support of his current campaign.

On Jan. 15, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles wrote a letter to Clarksburg Tavern co-owner Ashley Mouktafi stating that inspectors went to the restaurant on Jan. 8, three days after Ficker’s event. Gayles wrote that the event “posed an unreasonable risk of exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.”

“The event involved indoor dining, a gathering of more than ten people, lack of social distancing and lack of face coverings,” he wrote.

Someone who answered the phone at the tavern on Monday said Mouktafi would be in on Thursday. Mouktafi did not immediately respond to an email from Bethesda Beat on Monday.

Ficker, a Republican who has run for local, state and federal offices, posted multiple photos on Facebook that showed him shaking hands with people at the event who are gathered around tables and not social distancing or wearing masks.

He wrote on Jan. 7 that the event received “an incredible turnout” and he will be “doing plenty more” campaign events.

In another post, he wrote: “This was an outdoor event at the wonderful family-owned Clarksburg Tavern. All who attended brought their delicious plates and drinks inside to hear me deliver a brief speech to our ESSENTIAL Marylanders. After speaking, we went back outside on their heated patio and enjoyed the live band! Open the schools, open the restaurants, open Maryland, and let’s get back to work!”

Ficker, reached by phone Monday afternoon, said Clarksburg Tavern has requested a trial on the citations.

“I’m happy to go and talk about the 10 minutes that people came in to the restaurant to hear my talk and then went back outside into the cold,” he said.

Ficker said the tavern has “suffered severe retribution” from the public because it has sued to overturn the county’s indoor dining ban.

Montgomery County’s executive order does not allow indoor dining or groups of more than 10 to gather inside, and requires businesses to ensure social distancing and mask-wearing. County inspectors visit establishments, and cite or warn those with violations.

A judge upheld the county’s ban last month, but plans to hold another hearing, possibly next month, to review the matter further.

Gayles concluded that the restaurant was not complying with the restrictions and wrote that state or local officials would conduct a second inspection within three business days.

“If Clarksburg Tavern is unwilling or unable to make all of the modifications listed above by the second inspection, Clarksburg Tavern will be deemed an unsafe facility and will be closed,” Gayles wrote.

The health department released a separate statement on Monday, explaining that health inspectors issued an order for immediate compliance and four citations on Jan. 22.

“As the County continues to see increases in case numbers and deaths, it is incumbent on every business and resident to do everything in their power to stop the spread,” the statement said. “We understand that businesses and residents are experiencing COVID fatigue but willfully ignoring restrictions that are based on science and data will not be tolerated.”

This statement also said that a second inspection would be done three days later, and that the restaurant might be closed if the restaurant did not comply.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the health department, said on Monday that the tavern has already been fined as a result of the citations, but she wasn’t sure how much.

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