FRAMINGHAM – Restaurants have been struggling since mid-March, when Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker issued an executive order for take-out and curbside pickup only, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, the Baker-Polito administration said restaurants could start outdoor table service when Phase 2 begins. Gov. Baker said he would announce on June 6 when Phase II will start, based on health data.
Last week, the owner of Samba Steak and Sushi on Route 9 in Framingham set up more than a dozen picnic tables in his parking lot, and erected tents for customers, to expand his outdoor dining capacity, in anticipation of the Phase Ii re-opening.
“Samba social distances picnic table is up. Come get your samba take out orders!! Feel free to eat and drink outside. Will set up a tent in case raining day!,” posted the restaurant on its Facebook page on May 27.
Framingham Health Director Sam Wong and his department has cited and fined the Route 9 restaurant for violating the state’s and the city’s rules under the pandemic.
“Restaurant is allowed to offer food by take-outs or deliveries only at this point,” said Wong. “Onsite consumption at restaurant is part of Phase 2 of the reopening.”
On Friday, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the administration is working with lawmakers on a bill to streamline the local licensing process for outdoor dining.
Local communities will have the authority on approving outdoor dining plans, according to the state. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts did issue minimum standards and guidance for restaurants in order to re-open.
“You’re gonna see a lot of parking lots and other open spaces convert,” Gov. Baker said about restaurants when they re-open in Phase II.
“In-person dining is not allowed at this point, and Framingham is no exception,’ said Wong. In-person dining includes eating at picnic tables on the restaurant’s property.
Zhang getting started early, and without city permits, is now facing fines, and possible court action by the City of Framingham.
On May 27, the Framingham Health Department issued an “oral educational warning to the owner of Samba,” said Wong.
On May 28, the Framingham Department issued “a written order to cease such operation.”
On Friday, May 29, the Framingham Health Department “issued a $100 fine” to samba Steak and Sushi.
“If the violation is not corrected,” on Saturday, the fine increased to $200, and $300 on Sunday, explained Wong on Friday afternoon.
“If there is still no action to correct the violation on Monday, we intend to seek court action immediately,” said Framingham Health Director Wong on Friday night.
“Why they fine me?,” said Samba owner Joseph Zhang to SOURCE media. “Dunkin donut has couple picnic table outside. Ice cream shops has picnic table, and people eating and drinking outside. I am not the only one.”
“Mayor of Framingham should issue the executive order,” said Zhang. “She’d be able to do it.”
Zhang wants the Mayor to allow outdoor seating immediately, and to allow for expansion of restaurant seating to the picnic tables installed in the parking lot last week, and the tents erected on May 28.
More than 90% of restaurants in Massachusetts were forced to lay off or furlough workers as sales dropped by at least 81% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, said the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
A National Restaurant Association survey discovered 93% of Massachusetts restaurants cut staff. The average reduction in staff was by 87%, the Association said.
National Restaurant Association press release estimated restaurants in the Commonwealth would lose more than $1.3 billion in sales in April. The restaurants were closed for half of March, all of April, all of May, and most likely a good portion of June.
Zhang said “I need city to support local businesses. It really means alive or dead to us.”
On Friday, the City sent out an application for restaurants to fill out in anticipation of Phase II.
On May 22, Five members of the 11-member Framingham City Council sent a letter to Mayor Spicer to utilize the executive powers of her office to allow for outdoor seating, relaxed sign laws, and to waive permit fees for restaurants and small businesses as the state and the City of Framingham begin to re-open post the pandemic.
Mayor Spicer has said in a Zoom call her administration is working on the issue, but no concrete details have been released to the media or restaurants as of May 31.