A Texas restaurant owner is leveraging a little humor to get a very serious message across: Wear a mask or eat somewhere else.
Despite Gov. Greg Abbott officially lifting the state's mask mandate earlier this month, Wayne LaCombe tells Today Food that he is still enforcing protective face coverings for patrons who visit his Legends Diner in Denton — so much so that he has placed a sign on the front door warning would-be customers that they could be charged a fine for arguing.
"Our New Surcharge / $50 — If I have to explain why masks are mandatory / $75 — If I have to hear why you disagree," reads the sign.
In a Facebook post on March 17, Wayne's wife Kat, a co-owner of the diner who says she has 28 years experience as a registered nurse specializing in oncology, wrote, "All we ask is that customers wear a mask as they walk past another person that is eating and not wearing a mask. Sure [doesn't] seem like a lot to ask … but apparently it is. I with my husband try to protect and respect the people who come to our restaurant."
"The sign was a sort of joke … it was aimed at the people who feel the need to try to argue (and of course they're not wearing masks at the time)," she added. "No one wants this world to get back to normal more than small business owners."
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LaCombe told Today Food that while the charge itself is a joke, he and his wife "are serious about masks precautions" and "require masks to walk in." Some of the diner's employees, he said, "have not been vaccinated at all" yet.
"We take temperatures, we have sanitizer on every table. Nobody's allowed to walk around the restaurant without wearing a mask, because you do have diners sitting down, eating, not wearing a mask," LaCombe added. "It's an important subject that needs to be addressed. We know when people do not wear masks, numbers go up, and we're seeing that right now."
Of the sign, he explained, "[People] were laughing and taking pictures of it coming in, saying, 'I love your sign,' so I left it up. … We definitely did not expect to get this kind of response."
"People don't want their freedom infringed on, but small businesses, especially here, are definitely taking this serious and requesting masks upon entering, so fortunately we are not having any issues with people coming in unmasked," LaCombe said.
The governor's order to fully re-open businesses and end the statewide mask mandate, which came earlier this month, stated that businesses in Texas can continue to require customers to wear masks, but no local government can enact a mask mandate.
Officials from Austin and the surrounding Travis County said they would continue requiring citizens to wear masks due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — as health experts have strongly recommended — but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the city for keeping its mask rules in place, saying they violate the governor's order.
On March 12, a study was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reported in U.S. areas requiring masks between March and December 2020, the daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases went down by 1.8% in the first 100 days, and deaths declined by 1.9%.
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