Group of Pa. restaurant, bar owners may defy Gov. Wolf’s restrictions with a ‘restaurant revolution’

A group of Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners may defy Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandates, possibly opening and increasing capacity inside their establishments.

“it’s not an ultimatum to anybody. All I’m trying to do prove a point,” said Rod Ambrogi, owner of Al’s Café and president of the Southwestern Pa. Restaurant and Tavern Association

Ambrogi is fighting for his family business that’s been around for decades.

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He gave the governor until Friday to respond back to their letter with what they believe are reasonable measures: Serve alcohol without meals, allow direct bar service and increase capacity past 25 percent.

Reporter: When you say increase capacity, what does that mean? 50? 75? 100-%?

“it’s not 100 percent. It can’t be 100 percent if we do six foot of distancing. We are still cutting down on our capacity it still gives us a flexibility to be able to seat people,” Ambrogi said.

But in a press briefing Wednesday, Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Borgen said defying the governor’s order may jeopardize kids returning to school.

“From a public health perspective, that would be a huge nightmare for us all,” Bogen said.

“We cannot have people going rogue and just deciding on their own that they are going to break the law,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Ambrogi understands their concern but disagrees with the state and county’s restrictions.

“I would like to know if Mr. Fitzgerald missed a payment through this pandemic. Does he understand what we are facing?” Ambrogi said.

He believes owners can run their businesses safely by following the six foot rule and other CDC guidelines.

“We are not trying to get away from restrictions. All we are trying to do is get a fair shake and make a living,” Ambrogi said.

But owners who plan to break the rules Friday could result in legal consequences.

“Dispensary action and or suspension of their liquor license can occur which could shut down a lot restaurants however that will come under legal scrutiny potentially by the restaurateurs,” said WPXI legal analyst Phil DiLucente.

Not every restaurant and bar owner will participate in this restaurant revolution.

“I feel it could cause a setback because the board of health will come down on people and make examples of them and some of the politicians on our side may no longer be on our side,” said Michael Passalacqua, owner of Angelo’s Restaurant in Washington County.

Passalacqua is also part of the SWPA Restaurant and Tavern Association.

He thinks defying the orders is a bad idea, but he understands why some owners are willing to risk it.

“That’s the level of desperation a lot of people are at with this,” Passalacqua said.

Some customers agree with the restaurants who want to fight back.

“I’d rather be sitting at the bar it’s just something we’ve been doing all our lives we come in here for lunch that’s our chairs over there in the corner,” said Al’s Café customer Randy Lucas.

but some health experts said there’s a good reason for the governor’s order, and that restaurants and bars that defy it could put others at risk.

“It is going to pose a risk because people when they are eating and drinking are not going to be wearing masks. People are going to be speaking louder while they have more and more drinks it’s going to increase the risk,” said UPMC infectious disease Dr. Dave Weber.

If the association does not hear back from Wolf by Friday, the president says a lot of owners may take matters into their own hands.