LODI, Calif. — While some restaurants in Lodi were hosting customers for the last time before San Joaquin County's stay-at-home orders kicked in the following Monday, one diner plans to continue outdoor dining and also plans to resume indoor dining as well.
Denis Xenos, the owner of Denis' Country Kitchen in Lodi, called a newly introduced membership program a 'loophole' to continue business as usual.
"The righteous way to do this was not being open to the public but having a members-only facility," Xenos said. "I decided we're going to do that, so we closed off to the public and are selling memberships for a dollar."
Xenos said he got the idea to start a membership program from a town hall meeting he attended at The Whiskey Barrel in Stockton. The legality of Xenos' so-called loophole is unclear.
He said his motivation for staying fully open was to protect his employees and his business, which has been open since 1991.
"My employees, my family they need income," Xenos said. "We have rent to pay- those things aren't stopping. We were already barely making it- just to-go business only, we would not. My employees already had to cut down on their hours. Everybody’s struggling, and they’re trying to squash us and we’re just standing up against that. And we’re going to push back."
While Xenos planned to go against state orders, he and his employees said they would continue to practice and enforce recommended health guidelines while servicing customers, which includes sanitizing spaces regularly and wearing masks.
"We want to keep this as safe as possible," said Markie Cunningham, a server at Denis' Country Kitchen. "We just need to be able to survive."
Cunningham said take-out orders were miniscule and shutting down to solely to-go service would send her into further financial trouble.
"Personally, I had to get a moratorium on my mortgage," she said. "I'm on my second one right now because the unemployment didn't cover half of my bills."
Xenos said by staying fully open, he was not only keeping his employees and business funded, he was practicing his freedom.
"That's just the first step to resist this thing," Xenos explained. "To not be bullied by government that has an evil agenda."