Lincoln Co. commissioner reopens restaurant for dine-in day after receiving citation

Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 2:44 PM EDT
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VALE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Lincoln County restaurant opened for dine-in meals for the second day Tuesday, violating the governor’s order.

The county’s Board of Commissioners Chairman, Carrol Mitchem, owns Mitchem’s Kitchen in Vale. On Monday, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office cited him for allowing customers to dine inside the restaurant.

Tuesday, Mitchem opened the restaurant again.

The parking lot at Mitchem’s Kitchen stayed consistently busy Tuesday, and so did the dining room. At some points, people were spilling outside waiting for a table. The restaurant that usually serves mainly locals is now also serving people who traveled there, they say, to make a statement.

“We were open for business this morning, plan on being open all day and tonight, and tomorrow and the next day,” Mitchem said Tuesday.

Charlotte resident Patrick Miller traveled an hour and fifteen minutes to be part of that business.

"[I said], 'You know what, I'm going to lunch, I'll support that,'" Miller says.

That support continued Tuesday, despite the meals being a violation of Gov. Cooper’s order. Right now, North Carolina restaurants are only allowed to serve take-out or drive-through meals, not close, around-the-table dining inside like what was seen for the second time at Mitchem’s on Tuesday.

“We support Carrol because he looks out for the real rural America,” regular customer David Havner said.

The sheriff’s office says it received complaints from the public about Mitchem’s re-opening its dining room. Deputies issued Mitchem the citation Monday.

“I may not personally approve of all the Emergency Orders issued by Governor Cooper, but North Carolina General Statute allows provisions for Governor Cooper to issue orders during a State of Emergency,” Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam said Monday. “NC General Statute 166A states, local law enforcement SHALL enforce these orders."

Now, Mitchem says he is making a statement by staying open.

"I'm not forcing anyone to come," he says. "You come at your own risk. But it's the fact that you have the freedom and the choice to do that."

On Tuesday, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretery Mandy Cohen responded to questions about the kitchen being open for dine-in customers.

“We’re trying to be really data-driven in our decisions,” Cohen said.

Cohen stated that health leaders know the virus gets transmitted more when people are indoors and sitting down for longer periods of times.

“Restaurants, salons... those are the kinds of activities that are at higher risk of transmitting the virus,” Cohen added.

As of Tuesday, the sheriff’s department says issuing the citation is all its deputies will do, and that a case like this would now be in the state’s hands.

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