Judge orders Kriner’s Diner to stop dine-in service

The blue Kriner's Diner sign in Anchorage. 
Kriner’s Diner in Anchorage. Photographed Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

A state judge said Friday that Kriner’s Diner must comply with Anchorage’s emergency order and shut down its indoor dining.

The ruling follows Kriner’s refusal to stop serving customers inside this week, in violation of the city’s latest emergency order. The order took effect Monday and put a list of new restrictions in place for four weeks, including ending dine-in service, to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The Municipality of Anchorage issued fines to Kriner’s earlier this week. Then, when it still didn’t comply, took it to court.

At the hearing Friday, Kriner’s attorney, Blake Quackenbush, told the judge that the city was violating the state constitution’s equal protection clauses by allowing other businesses like gyms and seafood processors to stay open. He also said it’s unfair for the city to just allow outdoor dining and takeout because that business model doesn’t work for all restaurants, including Kriner’s.

The municipality’s attorney, Ruth Botstein, countered that Kriner’s hadn’t even tried to take advantage of outdoor dining and takeout options. Also, the city says, the emergency order has the force of law, and so willfully violating it is a criminal offense. It’s also a threat to public health, Botstein said.

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Quackenbush argued that there is no evidence to link Kriner’s to any outbreak. Botstein said if the city waited for a rash of infections tied to the diner, it would already be too late.

“These are harms that can’t be put back in the bottle,” she said.

RELATED:‘We’re all angry’: Anchorage restaurants lay off workers and shut down dine-in, while others defy order

Ultimately, Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth sided with the municipality, and granted its request for a temporary injunction, requiring Kriner’s to comply with the emergency order. Aarseth said the city demonstrated that indoor dining exacerbates the risk of spreading the coronavirus. He said the life and health of individuals is greater than Kriner’s interest in keeping its business open.

“A property interest cannot outweigh a person’s interest in life,” he wrote in his decision.

But, just hours after that decision, business showed no sign of letting up at Kriner’s.

Customers dined inside at Kriner's Diner on Friday afternoon, Aug. 7, 2020, just a few hours after a state judge ordered the restaurant to shut down dine-in service.
Customers dined inside at Kriner’s Diner on Friday afternoon, Aug. 7, 2020, just a few hours after a state judge ordered the restaurant to shut down dine-in service. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

Customers dining inside said they applauded owner Andy Kriner for standing up to the city. Those diners included Kevin French, 57, who was eating lunch with his 79-year-old mother, Jackie, at one of the booths. French said restaurants can serve customers indoors safely, and they shouldn’t have to shut down. He described the mayor’s order as “heartless.”

“It’s completely adverse, horrendous on the owner, his livelihood, paying his employees, paying the mortgage, their bills, their creditors,” he said. “What’s the mayor’s plan on taking care of these people that are about ready to lose everything unless they take this stand?”

French said, if necessary, he would use some of his retirement to help pay for Kriner’s legal bills.

Kriner’s can challenge Judge Aarseth’s ruling. At his restaurant Friday, Andy Kriner said he couldn’t talk to reporters, and declined to say what he’ll do next.

One of the entries at Kriner's Diner in Anchorage. The Municipality of Anchorage posted the red sign on the door ordering the restaurant to shut down dine-in service. To the left, another sign reads: Save Kriner's" and to the right one says:  "Only in America in 2020 can you get arrested for opening your business, but not for looting one..." 
One of the entries at Kriner’s Diner in Anchorage. The Municipality of Anchorage posted the red sign on the door ordering the restaurant to shut down dine-in service. To the left, another sign reads: Save Kriner’s” and to the right one says:  “Only in America in 2020 can you get arrested for opening your business, but not for looting one…”  Photographed on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media) 

Kriner’s is among just a few restaurants that refused to stop indoor dining this week.

The municipality is asking the court to intervene in one of the cases, and order Little Dipper Diner to comply with the emergency order. That hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Meanwhile, Jackie’s Place posted on social media Thursday night that it was returning to takeout, curbside and delivery after opening to dine-in earlier that day. Wings ‘N Things also posted online Friday that it would stop dine-in.

“While I will continue to support others and fight the municipality, they win this battle,” wrote Dawn Jewell, an owner of Wings ‘N Things.

At a news conference Friday, Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel said the judge’s order against Kriner’s should be a message for the whole industry.

“For all restaurants who are wondering about their obligations, the answer is clear,” she said. “There is a requirement to comply with these closure orders for indoor dining at the moment.”

Vogel has said the court process may also come with additional fines for businesses and, if they violate an injunction, they could be charged with contempt of court.

RELATED: Anchorage takes second diner to court over emergency order violation

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said at the news conference that the pandemic and related restrictions have disproportionately impacted the hospitality industry, and he knows that’s painful. He said the city is working to get funds to the businesses.

“We know the people in the hospitality industry, in particular, are paying the price for protecting the rest of us,” he said.

Reach reporters Tegan Hanlon and Lex Treinen at thanlon@alaskapublic.org and ltreinen@alaskapublic.org.