Tait Bar Block

Parker Owens, left, poses next to a BarBlock with his father Mick Owens. The elder Owens got supplies for the product's first prototype while helping his son with a school project. 

Local restaurateur Mick Owens understands that Gov. Tom Wolf had to respond when several bars and restaurants across the state flagrantly violated his restrictions for limiting the spread of COVID-19 earlier this month.

But Owens is no fan of how Wolf did so.

“His measures could have been wielded like a scalpel, but he chose to swing a machete through my industry,” by slashing the allowable occupancy from 50% to 25% statewide on July 16, Owens told a state House committee on Tuesday in Harrisburg.

Owens, owner of three Mick’s All American Pubs and one Maize Mexican Cantina in Lancaster County, was among nine owners of restaurants, bars and taverns, and three industry-association leaders to participate.

They told the state House Majority Policy Committee that Wolf’s action was an unnecessary and excessive blow to an industry that’s already reeling, a position the Republican representatives echoed. However, eight Democratic representatives on Tuesday also asked Wolf to reverse his decision.

John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, told the panel, “Ninety-five percent of restaurants are trying to do the right thing. It seems to me they’re not focusing on the bad actors.”

Owens, a vice president of the association’s Lancaster County chapter and a board member of the state association, was harshly critical of Wolf’s crackdown for another reason. It prohibits bar service too; but without using the bars in his restaurants, Owens can’t reach 25% occupancy and keep social distancing.

Owens called for scrapping percentages altogether and relying instead on social distancing and barriers (he’s designed a Plexiglas portable barrier for bars and restaurants) to keep patrons safe. For an analogy, he cited automobile safety: “We make people wear seat belts. We don’t tell them you can only have two people in a car.”

The local businessman also criticized Wolf for making restaurateurs “the enforcement arm of the governor’s decisions,” by having to make sure customers follow safety precautions or risk losing their liquor and restaurant licenses.

“We need laws and benchmarks we can work toward and understand. It’s time for us to be regulated by the legislature and not one man,” said Owens.