For one Anchorage restaurant, a defiant opening brings in crowds

Two patrons open the door to Kriner's Diner on Monday, August 3, 2020.
Patrons enter Kriners Diner on Monday, August 3, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Update, Tuesday 1:30 p.m.: Municipal employees posted a stop work order outside of Kriner’s Diner sometime before noon. Restaurant owner Andy Kriner said he will keep operating, despite the order.

Original story:

Emergency Order 15 went into effect Monday in Anchorage, banning indoor dining at restaurants and bars, but not every business complied. 

At Kriner’s Diner in Midtown, Monday looked like about any other afternoon: Pickup trucks crowded the parking lot. Customers streamed inside, looking for a fix of diner fare: burgers, chili and pie.

Many weren’t just there for the food. It was also about making a statement in defiance of the city’s restrictions on businesses meant to curb the rapidly spreading coronavirus. 

“Any business that’s willing to stay open for their livelihood over going on the government dole, I will try to support to the best of my ability,” said Chad Hahn as he walked out of the restaurant after a late breakfast of corned beef, hash and eggs.

He said fears of the coronavirus are overblown. 

RELATED: Alaska’s COVID-19 count tops 3,000, as Anchorage bars and restaurant dining rooms close again

Hahn, a postal service employee, said that keeping business running is what his patronage is all about. He said he also doesn’t want to live his life in fear, and he thinks the other customers would agree.

“They’re at capacity,” he said, when describing the scene inside Kriner’s. “They do have distancing. And there are tables that are reserved to maintain distancing. And people are in there and they’re happy and they’re laughing and they’re chatting. Nobody’s sitting in fear.”

RELATED: Anchorage shuts down bars, restaurants for indoor service

Kriner’s owner, Andy Kriner, said remaining open is about staying in business. The diner already living through one shutdown. It has run out of Paycheck Protection Program money and it doesn’t have any outdoor seating, Kriner said.

Luckily, he said, supporters have come out in droves. 

“I’ve had three people hand me $100 bills,” Kriner said. “People are calling on the phone and paying for people that are here eating because they can get here. Overwhelming support,.”

Kriner said he knows there are risks to staying open.

For one, there’s the health risk. But, he said, the wait staff is still wearing masks. He said he’s doing his best to keep 6 feet between customers, though with the number of guests, that’s hard.

Also, there’s also the risk of a consequence from the city for violating the mandate. Kriner said he tried to get a response about what might happen if he didn’t shut down. 

“I couldn’t get a straight answer,” he said. “What happened if I didn’t shut down? So I just thought I’ll stay open and see what happens.”

As of Monday afternoon, nothing had happened, Kriner said.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration declined a request for an interview. In a prepared statement, spokesperson Carolyn Hall wrote that the city was pursuing all enforcement options “including informing and educating businesses in violation of the Emergency Order as well as issuing fines and Stop Work Orders.”

Hall described the decision to have to close restaurants and bars as “unfortunate,” but said that it was based on evidence that the businesses are often linked to disease spread.

When Berkowitz was asked about enforcement of the new order last week, he said Alaskans do not live “in a police state.”

“For much of what we do we count on people to do the right things for the right reasons,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of social awareness of what the right kind of behavior is and that kind of social correction, I think, is occurring and will continue to occur.”

By late Monday afternoon, Kriner’s Diner had posted a message on social media thanking its customers for an amazing day. Customers like Chad Hahn say they’ll keep showing up, as long as there’s a place to sit and breakfast on the menu.