Pleasant Hill In-N-Out Burger shut for violating COVID orders
PLEASANT HILL, Calif. - County health officials shut down the In-N-Out Burger in Pleasant Hill Tuesday, after the restaurant repeatedly violated Contra Costa County's health order that mandates a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours for customers dining indoors who are 12-years-old and above.
Customers looking for a burger and fries found locked doors and lights out Tuesday afternoon at the fast food restaurant on Contra Costa Boulevard in Pleasant Hill.
"I saw the line earlier today so thought it was open," said Joshua Snarr who says he lives nearby and came with his wife and puppy to get some food. He says he was surprised to see the local landmark shut down, "It affects employees and customers. This is a local hotspot for this town."
That hotspot is now in hot water with the Contra Costa County Environmental Health Department. On Tuesday, health officials suspended the restaurant's commercial food permit.
The county said in a statement, "The Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location received four citations in recent weeks and fines totaling $1,750. Despite repeated notices of violation and fine, this business continued to permit indoor dining on site without verifying the COVID-19 vaccination status or recent, negative test result of customers."
Some customers say they support In-N-Out.
"I'm going to go more," said Istvan Sonkoly, a Concord resident who came with his wife Sharon Beck.
"I kind of admire them for taking a stand and saying no, we're not going to do that," said Beck.
"My opinion is I think it's our body, our choice so I kind of really am with them," siad Natalie Avila of Concord.
Others say they'll patronize other burger companies that follow the rules.
"They need to follow the rules...this covers everybody. Something very serious," said Farzaneh Fouladian of Martinez.
"People are getting affected by COVID. So I mean, I believe in safety too. I have a wife too and so I think people should be considerate of others as well," said Snarr.
In-N-Out's Chief Legal & Business Officer Arnie Wensinger, issued a statement saying it wanted all customers to feel welcome.
"We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government. It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant Associates to segregate Customers into those who may be served and those who may not, whether based on the documentation they carry, or any other reason. We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business. This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper, and offensive," Wensinger said in the statement.
Contra Costa County officials say the In-N-Out restaurants in Pinole and San Ramon have also received notices of violation for not checking customers' vaccination status, and on Monday the San Ramon location received a $250 notice of fine.
Last week, San Francisco shut down In-N-Out Burger's indoor dining at Fisherman's Wharf because the company was violating San Francisco's customer vaccine mandate. It later reopened for outdoor and take-out dining. The county is now investigating reports, though, that In-N-Out was disregarding the health order and still allowing indoor dining.
"It's a challenge for companies like In-N-Out that are located in states all across the country," said Professor Jennifer Chatman, who is an expert in management and serves as Associate Dean at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, "Every state and every county has potentially a different ordinance."
"With organizations like In-N-Out Burger, there's a benefit to being perceived the same whether you're going to the Sacramento In-N-Out or the Long Beach In-N-Out," said Chatman, "That brand is what's drawing customers there."
Chatman notes that In-N-Out Burger's claim that is is adhering to customer service values does raise questions about which customers the company is focused on serving.
"Those who are vaccinated may feel unwelcome if an organization is not going to follow the mandate," said Chatman.
She says the nation's divisions over vaccine mandates have companies nationwide making decisions now about what their brands represent and In-N-Out Burger, a private family business with a history of taking conservative religious and political stands, is in some way a sign of the times.
"The fact that people are either more inclined to visit In-N-Out Burger as a result of this action or less inclined to do so, I think is a real reflection on the state of the country right now," said Professor Chatman.
Contra Costa County officials said, "In-N-Out may request an appeals hearing regarding the Pleasant Hill location’s permit suspension and any of the fines incurred. The location must remain closed until the hazard is abated."
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.