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Washington opens window to indoor dining with new 'open-air' rules

The new rules for "open-air dining" came after a Burlington pub owner fought the state and won.

BURLINGTON, Wash. — Burlington's Railroad Pub & Pizza can now open its doors to seated customers in its open-air dining room.

Washington's Department of Labor and Industries (L & I) has relaxed dining regulations for certain restaurants after Railroad Pub & Pizza owner Nick Crandall argued that the restaurant's dining room, with garage-door sized roll-up windows, had just as much airflow as the outdoor sidewalk tents that have been allowed.

It was part of his struggle to stay afloat, after nine months of varying indoor dining restrictions on restaurants statewide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm gonna do whatever I can to fight for me and anybody else out there trying to keep their business going," Crandall said after the decision. "It's not just about the employer but the employees. It just feels good to get something rolling."

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

His restaurant is now open for what the state has called "open-air dining," but the change doesn't apply to all restaurants. 

You can't just prop open a window and door and let people sit. A restaurant has to meet certain criteria, operate at a limited capacity, and monitor carbon dioxide levels to ensure adequate airflow in an open-air dining room.

"We want to work with people," said Tim Church, spokesman for L & I. "Our people looked at the situation and decided it could be safe."

Anyone with questions is encouraged to reach out to the department.

It was a change that Crandall had to push for.

Last week, state officials told Crandall he had to stop serving sit-down customers because even though it felt like they were outside, they were still technically eating indoors, which is not allowed under Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 mandate.

"When we got shut down, I decided to make a stink," said Crandall.

Crandall started calling local and state officials, doing television interviews, including with KING 5, and talking with anyone who would listen to get the word out about what he thought was a ridiculous regulation.

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

The state did require Crandall to install a carbon dioxide detector before reopening to seated customers. It's yet another expense to incur, but Crandall says it's progress.

"At least we're moving forward. We'd just like it to be faster."

For others like Crandall, it's one step forward for struggling restaurants and a bit of encouragement that you can fight the system and win.

"All these small businesses are putting up a fight. It's a daily deal," said Crandall. "I'm just ready to get back on the horse and get going again."