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My Eastern Shore MD: Comptroller meets with open-air restaurant owners

CENTREVILLE — Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot met with about 10 open-air restaurant owners from Queen Anne’s County Tuesday afternoon, May 26, via Zoom. The meeting, listed as the “Outdoor Seating Summit,” lasted exactly one hour.

Franchot met with the group from his home. The meeting was coordinated by Queen Anne’s County Economic Development Director Heather Tinelli. She included restaurant owners from Queen Anne’s County and one from Annapolis, Bobby Jones, who grew up in Queen Anne’s County and now is owner of Ketch 22.

Also attending were QA Chamber of Commerce President Linda Friday and Kent Narrows Development Foundation Executive Director Gigi Windley.

Franchot said, “I want to apologize for the botched response by the government to COVID-19. There’s been so much confusion as to what people can and cannot do. Should we wear face masks or should we not wear face masks?” He said his criticism was not aimed at Governor Larry Hogan, with whom “I have had a very good working relationship.”

Franchot said he believes, as Hogan does, in a common sense reopening of the economy, in incremental steps, following Centers for Disease Control guidelines, practicing social distancing, wearing face masks out in the public, and washing our hands.

He also made it clear, “I am not the governor. The governor has his own schedule. I do advise him, but it’s his decision when things happen.”

Franchot complimented QA County Commissioner Chris Corchiarino, who attended the summit.

“I have the most respect for you, Chris. Whenever we have met, there’s never been any partisanship of who’s a Republican or a Democrat,” he said.

Corchiarino responded, “I try to do what’s best for all the people I represent.”

Franchot asked all who wanted to share their opinions and concerns with him to speak.

Fisherman’s Inn owner/partner Jody Schulz said, “We’d like to know as soon as possible what the rules are going to be for our reopening our restaurants. We all want to get back in business. This is killing us.”

Schulz added, “I’m concerned about being told what percentage of capacity of people we can have inside our restaurants. I don’t favor being told a percentage. As long as we can distance people from one another, that’s what I think we should be doing.”

He later said, “If possible, please ask the governor to let us know as far in advance as possible when we can reopen with the rules, to give us as much time to be prepared. If he could tell us on a Monday that we can reopen that Friday, that would help, rather than two days before.”

Kentmorr Restaurant owner Tammy Harper addressed efforts for outdoor seating at her restaurant.

“My husband has marked out 10 x 10 foot square sections with tables for seating people outside,” she said. She also spoke about the concern of not receiving her 180-day permit from the county for outdoor seating and losing very important summer business that helps keep restaurants in business throughout the year.

Harper ended her comments with a quote she had read somewhere, “We’re drowning in information and starving for wisdom.”

She said she hopes someone at the state level will provide clear instruction and leadership for restaurants to reopen safely.

Cult Classic Brewery owner Brooks McNew, who has been working with the Kent Island Farmers Market, allowing them to hold the weekly market in his parking lot, said he is hoping the county will give him a permit to move much of his business outside to the parking lot next to his building. He talked about the possibility of hosting outdoor concerts and/or drive-in movies where people would remain seated inside their cars, practicing social distancing safely while being served food and beverages by staff.

He said, “My concern is the county moves slowly on permit requests, and I hope that would change as we in the restaurant business are in a state of emergency.”

An unidentified restaurant owner who followed McNew said, “This is about survival for us.”

Harris Crab House owner Bill Oertel addressed concerns about what he saw over Memorial Day weekend outside his restaurant.

“Most people who came to pick-up food from our curbside were wearing masks, practicing social distancing. However, about 10% of those who came were not wearing masks, and some were unruly. We need to have clear rules when we reopen as to how to handle customers who are not following the rules we will be given,” Oertel said.

Another owner expressed concern, “We don’t want to have to act like the police at our restaurants. We’re hoping our local police aren’t going to turn a blind eye to this.”

Len Foxwell, the Comptroller’s chief of staff, said, “Leaving it up to local control within each county to decide when restaurants could reopen would be the worst thing we could do. That would add to the confusion we’ve already had!”

Restaurant owners wanted to know who to contact to help get their businesses opened — local officials, state officials or the governor. Foxwell replied, “I say yes, yes and yes, to all three.”

Local businesses Blackwater Distilling, Patriot Acres, and Bridges Restaurant were also represented on the call. In all, 26 people were connected to the summit.

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