Citations are mounting for a Forked River diner as the owner ignores New Jersey's COVID orders banning indoor dining -- a measure that has been in place for months due to the pandemic.
Brian Brindisi reopened Lakeside Diner Saturday morning, despite his 11 citations racked up since reopening his doors to indoor patrons. The threat of more fines and a court ordered lock change to keep the restaurant closed didn't stop Brindisi from returning to the diner on Friday to change the locks back in time for weekend business.
"What do they expect us to do? I've been in business for 27 years. Should I just shut down and forget everything I've done for thirty years?" he said. "Call me, talk to me. Let's make some kind of arrangement where we can get businesses open again."
Brindisi said he’s taking CDC-compliant temperature checks and hand sanitizing is required before you get to a table. There is also a lot of cleaning here, including a weekly deep cleaning that also targets the air vents.
"We take the virus very seriously here but we also believe in the constitution here," Brindisi said.
Nevertheless, Brindisi said he's not trying to make a political statement, he just wants to stay in business and is willing to work with the governor to settle on a compromise.
Brindisi's sentiments are shared with other restaurateurs across New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy has only allowed outdoor dining, however Lakeside Diner is limited when it comes to dining al fresco because it shares its parking lot with other businesses.
Meanwhile, Lakeside Diner customers are fully supporting of the defiance, despite the risk. Some have been waiting months to eat indoors once again.
"I've got four stents in my heart, I've got 39 rods and screws in my back. I survived Vietnam. I can survive this," Kerry Sneddon, of Forked River, said
"We’ve been looking for someplace that actually opened," Laura Mathew, from Toms River, said.
But can Brindisi survive the fines he’s facing following the cease and desist order he got from the attorney general's office a week ago?
"I have to pay my bills. I don't have any other way to do this," Brindisi said.
Meanwhile, state officials are fully aware of this situation: from the county prosecutor to the governor’s office. But Brindisi says he’s ready to go to court if they try to shut him down.