The Palisades Lounge in Silver Spring was told to close for failing to abide by physical distancing requirements, officials said.
The Palisades did not respond to requests for comment on Monday evening. Ahmed Kamel, owner of Vibes Hookah, said on Tuesday that the business has been barred from offering indoor hookah, but is still offering retail and to-go services. He disputed the county’s initial statement that the business had been shut down. Tayachew Enyew, owner of Cabana Hookah, said he was not aware that hookah lounges were not part of the Phase 2 reopening. “There was not enough explanation on that,” he said over the phone on Monday. “We are really struggling now because they closed us and the landlord is still asking us to pay rent.”
In a statement, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said “businesses will stay open provided they follow the public health guidelines. . . . If they choose to ignore public health guidance, we will shut them down.”
The Grille at Flower Hill, a smokehouse in Gaithersburg, posted on Facebook that it was visited by health authorities after a complaint that employees were not using masks.
The post, which has since been deleted, lambasted patrons for reporting the restaurant and told them not to dine there if they felt uncomfortable. “Let me be very clear,” the post stated. “My staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille.”
The restaurant, which county officials said usually operates Thursday through Sunday, posted another message on Facebook Sunday that said it would be closed that evening.
The post said the restaurant plans to reopen on Thursday, adding that “complaints regarding our limited hours of service” should be directed to Elrich and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The post drew hundreds of comments, the majority of which were critical of the restaurant.
“Hopefully not reopening ever!” one user wrote. “Since you’re explicitly putting your customers and staff in danger by refusing to wear masks. Horrible mindset in this challenging time.”
Calls to the Grille were not answered on Monday morning, and inquiries via email were not returned.
Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman said via email that “the county is taking the lead” on the investigation into the Grille. Ricci also noted that the governor’s latest executive order on coronavirus restrictions states explicitly that all employees at food establishments must wear face coverings. A person who knowingly violates the order may face up to a year in prison, $5,000 in fines or both.
Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Health Department, said county officials warned the Grille last week that employees had to wear masks but stopped short of ordering the restaurant to close.
Health inspectors visited the restaurant Thursday to issue a reminder on the mask mandate, Anderson said. Three days later, the department received new complaints, which said employees had not been wearing face coverings over the weekend.
The health department plans to send inspectors to the Grille again when it reopens.
“If we find that a business has been educated and continues to willfully ignore the requirements to safely reopen, we will use our legal authority to prohibit their operations until they comply,” said county health officer Travis Gayles.
Montgomery is in Phase 2 of its reopening plan, which requires restaurant employees to wear face coverings. It is also mandatory for restaurant patrons above the age of 2 to wear face coverings whenever they are not seated at a table or bar.
More than 15,000 Montgomery residents have contracted the coronavirus in Montgomery and as of Monday, 753 have died — the highest toll of any county in Maryland.
This story has been updated.