Municipality takes legal action as more Anchorage restaurants push back against emergency order

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 9:24 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - What started with a single restaurant breaking municipal mandates on Monday has now evolved into a small group of business owners refusing to cooperate with emergency orders from the office of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

At the latest tally, Kriner’s Diner has been joined by The Little Dipper Diner, Jackie’s Place and Wings ‘N Things. All four restaurants continue to provide dine-in services to their customers, despite the municipal orders limiting restaurants to carry-out and delivery operations.

Despite the municipality’s Stop Work Orders, and a potential injunction, customers have kept Kriner’s dining area full for four days. Other restaurant owners are taking notice, joining Kriner in what the growing collection of businesses are referring to as a “peaceful protest.”

In Spenard, Jackie’s Place owner Chris DeVito says his decision to reopen the dining area is more about standing up to the Municipality of Anchorage than it is about business.

“As small business restaurant owners, other restaurants are our friends,” he said. “We’ve talked with not only Kriner’s but a few other ones. It’s a matter of making a point.”

Wings ‘N Things in Midtown echoed that sentiment. Co-owner Dawn Jewell pointed out that her business is adhering to the mandates regarding masks and social distance, but she feels that the municipality is crossing the line when some businesses have to close due to size restrictions, locations and the lack of options for seating diners outdoors.

“I have maybe 20 people dine in at most a day,” Jewell said. “This isn’t about finances for me, it’s taking a stand.”

By Thursday afternoon, Kriner’s Diner had already sold out of food on two separate occasions and substantial monetary donations had been made by his customers. When asked about pending legal action from the municipality Thursday morning, Kriner said he had not read the paperwork which was given to him.

A court hearing regarding the Municipality of Anchorage’s request for a temporary injunction against Kriner’s Diner has been pushed back to 10 a.m. Friday. An initial hearing on Thursday ended quickly after Judge Josie Garton recused herself, saying she has an economic interest in another restaurant, which was not named in court.

While Garton did not view it as a conflict of interest, she removed herself from the case because there was no one representing Kriner’s on the phone conference to waive any objections.

The case has now been assigned to Judge William Morse who held another hearing Thursday afternoon, delaying the proceeding until Friday morning after the attorney for Kriner’s Diner requested more time to review the case.

“People are throwing $100 bills at me to help with my defense funds or my bail ... Whatever comes first.”

Andy Kriner, Kriner's Diner

Going forward, DeVito says he will try to pay any fines that Jackie’s Place incurs for staying open, as long it makes financial sense to do so. Jewell says she will not pay any fines and has no plans to close her dining area again.

KTUU also spoke with Berkowitz about the businesses that have joined Kriner in “protest” of the latest round of mandates.

“What’s important is that most restaurants are complying,” Berkowitz said. “They are complying with these orders at great cost. It’s only fair to the restaurants that are complying that all restaurants are held to the same standard.”

On top of support from other restaurants, Kriner’s Diner was also paid a visit by a group of state legislators on Thursday. Alaska House Members Laddie Shaw (R) District 26, Cathy Tilton (R) District 12, and George Rauscher (R) District 9, sat together, chatting with the owner before eating their meal.

“I’m here to have lunch and support my community,” Shaw said. “If this is a peaceful protest, then fine... but everybody needs lunch.”

When KTUU asked Tilton for her opinion on the pending legal action levied against the diner, she indicated that her visit was more about supporting small businesses than about being “defiant.”

“I think that he as a business person, has the right to do what he needs to do to keep his business going,” Tilton said.

“I’m eating here because I’m hungry and they are open,” Rauscher said. “That’s all city stuff, but I can tell you one thing ... We have to get this state running again.”

Thursday evening, new filings on the public access website for Alaska’s court system indicated that the municipality is also moving forward with another civil complaint, against the owner of The Little Dipper Diner.

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