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Burlington pizza shop owner frustrated open-air dining doesn’t meet COVID-19 rules

The owner of Railroad Pub and Pizza argues that its open-air dining room is just like being outdoors, and should be allowed under the state's COVID-19 restrictions.

BURLINGTON, Wash. — Jan. 14 UPDATE: Railroad Pub and Pizza announced the state has reversed their decision and is now allowing seated service to resume. 

With five garage-door-sized windows welcoming a winter wind into Railroad Pub and Pizza, owner Nick Crandall figured he was good to open for dining during the current coronavirus restrictions.

"You could fly a kite in here," he said.

But what Crandall had hoped would be a solution for the railroad-themed pub has turned out to be more of a train wreck.

Crandall was told by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries to shut down his dining room because people were still technically eating indoors under the building's roof.

Gov. Jay Inslee's outdoor seating requirements for restaurants restrict dining to "sidewalks, patios, courtyards, or other similar outdoor areas." Health officials have said that coronavirus transmission is more likely indoors than outdoors.

Crandall said the lack of flexibility is frustrating.

"They're kind of forcing you to not be legal," Crandall said. "People are like, screw it, I'm gonna open up. The state isn't working with me. They're not giving me even two tables to work with."

To offer in-person dining, many restaurants popped up tents on the sidewalks to protect tables and customers from the elements.

Some of the enclosed tents have been criticized by people who say they're no different from — and no safer than — eating indoors.

Crandall does not criticize those fellow small business owners who, he said, are "just trying to make a living." But he feels like his situation is just as safe, if not safer.

"I have enough flow of air coming through. What else do you want me to do?"

Crandall installed the roll-up windows five years ago when he opened Railroad Pub and Pizza, allowing for a well-ventilated dining room.

"With what's going on these days, I got lucky. I've got these doors and a good crosswind going on," Crandall said.

But right now, no accommodation is allowed for establishments like Crandall's, though L&I officials told KING 5 that the rules are under "review."

"We realize the requirements don’t fit perfectly in every situation," L&I spokesman Tim Church said. "We are working with the Department of Health now to review the restaurant requirements, looking at different arrangements that may allow for safer, well-ventilated dining. This particular situation is likely one of those we will look at as part of that review."

For now, it's back to takeout only. While the folks at Railroad Pizza wait for business to get back on track, and Crandall's patience wears thin.

"It just makes another small business say screw it, I can't do it anymore."

RELATED: Burlington pizza shop with open-air dining allowed to serve after state review