CHEYENNE — Less than a month after publicly refusing to follow the state’s public health orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanford’s Grub and Pub has been issued a warning letter from the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department.
On Monday, Sanford’s owner James Yates received a document titled “Warning Letter for Summary Suspension of Food License” that stated “On Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, your business was served with a citation for failure to comply with aforementioned Statewide Public Health Orders. This letter serves as a warning that your establishment has been and continues to be in violation of the Statewide Public Health Orders.”
The document said Sanford’s has 24 hours to address any noncompliance, and if any violations are noted during the city-county health department’s follow-up evaluation, the department will issue a summary suspension of the restaurant’s food license.
“They came in, wrote me up. Then they came in a second time with a police officer,” Yates said Tuesday in an interview with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “(Then) they came in today, and they said ... ‘you have 24 hours to comply with everything that we write or we will suspend your food license,’ which puts me out of business. Basically they’re saying ‘you’re closed,’ because I do 85% of my volume in food and 15% of my volume in alcohol.
This warning comes after a few visits from the health department, during which officials told Yates that Sanford’s could lose its liquor license for up to two weeks if the restaurant continued to defy the orders.
Yates told the Tribune Eagle in a previous interview that the possibility of losing his liquor license was confusing because Wyoming statutes related to public health orders only allow for a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail. After learning about what public entities have control over liquor licenses versus food licenses, he’s not surprised officials changed their course of action.
“They (the health department) control the food part, and City Council controls the alcohol part,” he added. “So what I feel personally is that they came at me in a different direction because I don’t think they felt like they had the entire power to go through the liquor.”
Currently, the city cannot take action on noncomplying bars, restaurants or other entities with liquor licenses until it’s time for the license to be renewed, which happens each year. It can only consider those violations of law or code at the time of renewal. However, an ordinance was introduced Monday that would allow City Council to suspend or revoke a business’s liquor license if it does not comply with state laws or city code.
Regardless of the change in potential punishment, Yates said that because the health department is now requiring he operate at 50% capacity (in accordance with the state’s latest public health order) he might have to lay off several employees to keep the business open.
Yates said he’s frustrated with the health department, but recognizes that officials are just doing their job. Ultimately, he blames Gov. Mark Gordon for threatening his business.
“I totally, with 100% of my being, stand against everything that that man has done on this mandate,” Yates said. “He does not have the power, as one person, to control everything. … why doesn’t the governor give away half of his pay until we can go back to full capacity?”
Yates noted he has several friends in Cheyenne who own restaurants, yet he said the health department has gone after his business the hardest because he’s the only one who “stood up.”
“I said ‘no’ because I have a lot of beautiful, kind, caring, single moms – people that need money that have worked for me for years, and now I’m saying you’re not gonna get as many hours as you have, and some of the people that just started are gonna lose their job,” he said.
Yates said the restaurant did receive “whatever money it qualified for” through the Paycheck Protection Program, which will help cover payroll temporarily, but the business is still in trouble.
“I want to serve food and survive,” he said. “I’m scared because I will lose everything I’ve ever fought for.”
Photos: A timeline of coronavirus in Wyoming