Dave McGuire doesn’t want a government handout.
He just wants to run his restaurant and keep paying his employees through the holidays.
McGuire, who with his wife, Sandy, owns the Oregon Trail restaurant in Baker City, has recently allowed limited indoor dining despite the state’s ban on that service in counties, including Baker, that are in the extreme risk category for the spread of COVID-19.
Baker County has been in that category since Dec. 3 and will remain at that level through at least Dec. 31.
McGuire said on Wednesday morning, Dec. 23, that he feels he has “been backed into a corner” by the restaurant restrictions.
He said the prospect of laying off employees before Christmas was “excruciating,” especially considering he had to temporarily lay off most of his employees in March after Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order banning indoor dining at restaurants.
That restriction was eased later in the spring, replaced by occupancy limits for restaurants, until the current restrictions, based on each county’s risk level, took effect Dec. 3.
McGuire had a conversation Tuesday evening with Fred Warner Jr., Baker City manager, who came to the restaurant.
Warner said Baker County has received several reports about indoor dining at the Oregon Trail restaurant.
Oregon OSHA has received five complaints about Oregon Trail restaurant, said Mark Peterson, communications officer for the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services.
“I volunteered to talk to Dave,” Warner said on Wednesday morning. “We had a good conversation.”
Warner said he told McGuire that he doesn’t want the restaurant to be closed by state officials, or to be subject to financial penalties for defying the ban on indoor dining.
Warner said he also told McGuire that Baker County, using its share of federal COVID-19 relief aid, will be giving money to many local restaurants that applied for grants.
McGuire said he believes Warner’s concern was “heartfelt.”
McGuire said he hasn’t applied for a grant — he said Warner told him he could receive $15,000 — because he believes other businesses are suffering worse and need the assistance more than he does.
But McGuire also said that by allowing indoor dining he is trying to take a stand against what he sees as unfair, and unwarranted, restrictions against restaurants.
He pointed out that state officials have repeatedly cited social gatherings, not restaurants, as a significant source of Oregon’s surge in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks.
McGuire said he doesn’t object to other precautions designed to stem the spread of the virus, including ones that affect restaurants.
While allowing indoor dining this month, McGuire said he has continued to follow the protocols that the state has required for several months, including face coverings for employees and customers, a 50% occupancy limit, spacing groups of diners and frequently sanitizing surfaces.
“The safety of Oregonians should be the first priority,” McGuire said. “This isn’t some right-wing, anti-mask thing. But somebody needs to do something. We’re trying to stand on our own.”
Warner said he went to the Oregon Trail restaurant on Tuesday to encourage McGuire to apply for financial aid through the county.
“I really don’t want that business to be shut down by the state and fined,” Warner said. “This is tough on restaurants. I just feel really bad for our businesses. We need to help them all we can.”
McGuire said that although he appreciates Warner’s sincerity, he was disappointed by the city manager’s message.
“I was hoping that he was going to say how Baker would stand up and help Baker small businesses open their doors,” McGuire said.
McGuire, who’s also co-owner of the Oregon Trail Motel, which is adjacent to the restaurant at 211 Bridge St., said he’s concerned that some local businesses won’t be able to stay open given the lost revenue due to most major local events being canceled due to the pandemic, including Miners Jubilee, the bull and bronc riding events and the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally.
“Baker’s a tourism town,” McGuire said.