With protesters outside the Cambridge Municipal Court Tuesday, a restaurant owner who opened her sit-down diner last week pleaded not guilty to a charge leveled by health officials.
Vicki Brearley is accused of failure to prevent a threat to the public during a pandemic, a second-degree misdemeanor offense filed by the Cambridge-Guernsey County Health Department. Ohio has banned inside dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic until May 21.
Brearley previously said she believes it’s a violation of her Constitutional rights as a business owner to have to follow such a directive as Stay Safe Ohio from Ohio Health Department Director Dr. Amy Acton, a non-elected official.
“It is disrespectful to the people who fought for this country and sacrificed for our rights,” she said. “This (order) takes away from what they fought for and that’s just not right.”
Several protestors outside the municipal court waived flags and held signs demanding official re-open Ohio businesses now. One sign stated “Every Business is Essential to Someone” referring to small businesses shut down by the Stay Safe Ohio order.
The National Road Diner was closed Tuesday while Brearley was in court.
“We are staying closed today to evaluate things,” she said after the hearing. “I am taking today to absorb what all has happened. My husband told me the family is behind me whatever I decide to do, but I think I will be shut down immediately if I open the restaurant.”
The court granted Brealey a personal recognizance bond with the condition she complies with all orders of the Ohio and Guernsey County departments of health to include no sit-down dining inside an eatery until May 21. Restaurants with outside dining can resume operations on May 15.
Patrons of all ages from across the state of Ohio had been visiting the National Road Diner on Glenn Highway for a sit-down meal inside a restaurant.
“People are happy to come in … sit down … and eat,” Brearley said. “They are not afraid. They come in with kids and babies in seats because they are not afraid.”
Patrons who have visited the National Road Diner have reportedly come from as far away as Columbus, Lancaster, Dover and Caldwell — just to name a few. There have also been a lot of local residents visiting the diner.
“There have been a lot of out-of-town residents coming to make sure their Constitutional rights are upheld, too,” Brearley said. “We have received so much support from all over Ohio.”
Guernsey County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the restaurant on multiple occasions to determine if the indoor dining ban was being violated. Sheriff Jeff Paden previously referred questions regarding enforcement of the stay at home orders to health department officials.
A previous message left for Colby seeking comment regarding the diner was not returned.
Brearley said the tables at the diner are spaced 6 to 7 1/2 feet apart to conform with social distancing. Individual condiments are brought to the table with each meal, and the tables, chairs, door and dishes are washed and sanitized after each patron.
The restaurant was turning patrons away during the day Tuesday.
“There are people pulling into the parking lot wanting to come in and eat,” Brearley said after the hearing. “They (health department officials) have put me between a rock and a hard place.”