Popular local restaurant cited by health department for not following COVID-19 guidelines

MT. LEBANON, Pa. — A popular South Hills restaurant was cited by the health department for violating coronavirus health guidelines.

The manager at Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon actually told inspectors that his employees weren’t wearing facemasks because they found them uncomfortable.

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One customer who visited the restaurant on June 9, just days after Allegheny County moved to the green phase, posted on social media about what they saw – including the inside dining area being packed and not six feet apart.

Please do not eat at Il Pizzaiolo in Mt. Lebanon Here is my experience from Tuesday, June 9th. This is just a few days...

Posted by Stephen Santa on Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Stephen Santa told Channel 11 he emailed the restaurant’s owner about some concerns he had about the way Il Pizzaiolo was operating. Instead of a dialogue, Santa said the owner told him he’d get a refund -- but not to come back.

“He told me to never step foot in his restaurant again,” Santa said. “I’m happy to see it (was busy), but it was very packed. Tables were close together -- did not seem like they were six feet apart or social distancing.”

Plus, Santa said employees were not wearing masks, which is a requirement under the state’s coronavirus green phase. The owner, Ron Molinaro, said he would give Santa a refund -- even though Santa said he never wanted one.

“I didn’t ask for a refund, I didn’t want a refund,” he said. “I wanted to support the business, and he basically said no one is going to tell him what to do.”

After Santa reported Il Pizzaiolo to the Allegheny County Health Department, the restaurant was cited for the lack of masks and 11 other violations, including food at wrong temperatures and not having soap at hand-washing sinks.

When Channel 11 reached out to Molinaro on Wednesday, he issued a lengthy response:

“We are following all CDC guidelines including this one: ‘an employee does not need to wear a mask if it impedes their vision, if they have a medical condition, or it would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task. Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition are not required to wear masks and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.'

It is my position that the mask is certainly helpful and recommended in certain situations. Il Pizzaiolo is a very busy, physically demanding restaurant. The mask quickly becomes saturated with sweat, vapor and bacteria and is very unsanitary. Staff would constantly need to change it and fuss with it. In our case it would do more harm than good.

It is unfortunate that a vocal minority has attempted to destroy a business utilizing social media, calling the police and having the health department shake us down. My Team, Family and I deserve better than that. Most people have congratulated us for our ongoing effort during the pandemic as we have worked tirelessly to be the best we could be. We have also worked to help members of our community and worked with various charities over the past 4 months.

We value our own lives and the lives of our guests. We have strived for excellence for 25 years and we will be here in 25 years.

We will continue to follow all CDC guidelines and deliver the level of excellence everyone expects. We however will not be wearing a filthy mask on our face while we do it to appease the court of public opinion. If the government changes the guidelines we will either go back to curbside and delivery, or go on vacation.

If you have anxiety about the face masks, I recommend you support the other great restaurants in Pittsburgh and please consider joining us in better times.”

Meanwhile, Santa said all he was asking for was transparency so the public is aware of the decisions being made by that private business. That way, they can make their own choice on whether they want to go there or not.

“... just so the public can make an educated decision on if they want to patronize and if they’ll feel safe and healthy going there,” Santa said.

There are a few other Il Pizzaiolo restaurants in the Pittsburgh area. Each of them are operated by different owners.