Cold weather, confusion lead to frustration for local business owner

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As West Virginia business owners reopen their doors amid new directives to promote social distancing and continue to limit contact between people, the simplest concepts are quickly becoming complicated and that is leading to confusion and frustration.

Defining what constitutes “outdoor dining” has proved to be trickier that one might think.

Governor Jim Justice permitted restaurants to resume outdoor dining on May 4th as part of second phase of the West Virginia’s reopening strategy.

Apple Annies, a locally owned restaurant and bakery in Morgantown, had remained open for take-out service only since Governor Jim Justice shutdown in-person dining at restaurants around the state on March 17th.

Despite below average temperatures last week, owner Patrick Padula opened the five, sliding glass doors on his business and allowed customers to eat, in the open air. Padula believed he was following guidelines that had been presented by the governor’s office, until he was paid a visit from the Monongalia County Health Department on Saturday.

“One of the customers slid the sliding glass doors closed and nobody noticed because it’s outside behind the bakery counter and no one was really paying attention,” Padula said,”Someone had inadvertently posted on social media that it was nice to get back to normal and dine inside at Apple Annie’s and the health department saw it and came right out.”

Padula made his case that the door had been accidentally closed and initially the health department agreed to allow him to open the door back up and continue to operate. However, Padula said that changed minutes later.

“A couple minutes after they left, they called back and said no it’s not outdoor seating. I said based on what guideline and they said we just determined it’s not outdoor seating, and it’s not up for debate.”

Padula claimed he never was provided a definition for what constituted “outdoor dining” while asking for a explanation for being ordered to close the patio area.

WAJR News reached out to the Monongalia County Health Department in an e-mail for a definition of outdoor dining. Public Information Officer MaryWade Triplett responded that:

“Outdoor dining areas are areas not served by the HVAC for air conditioning purposes. Outdoor dining uses only outside air. If the seating is incorporated into the building to provide ambient air through HVAC, it is not outdoor dining.”

“Shall be otherwise unenclosed by fixed walls and open to the air, except for umbrellas or other nonpermanent covers.”

Padula, acquiesced to the health department’s request to close the patio to customers, reverting back to take-out only and preparing for the resumption of indoor dining, which is scheduled to be permitted again starting May 21st.

Padula is still looking for answers and claims other restaurants with similar patio areas his are still serving diners.

“Their [the health department] response was, tell us who you’re seeing and we’ll go shut them down too,” Padula said, “I said the point is not to shut other people down and put people out of work, the point is there’s a lot of uncertainty here.”

Triplett confirmed to WAJR News that the health department is monitoring restaurants that are possibly violating statewide guidelines through complaints only.