MOUNT LEBANON, Pa. (KDKA) – A Beechview man will need to look elsewhere for his next margherita pizza after getting into a dispute with a restaurant owner over employees not wearing masks.
“I would say it was pretty angry,” said Stephen Santa. “He basically told me that he does not have to answer to anyone at anytime on the planet. Not now or not ever.”
Stephen Santa claims the owner of a Mount Lebanon Italian restaurant, Il Pizzaiolo, told him never to step foot inside his business.
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller broke down the social media controversy that sparked a health department inspection earlier this week.
Along Mount Lebanon’s busy Washington Road sits Il Pizzaiolo. It reopened to dine-in customers on June 5. Santa tells KDKA it’s one of his family’s favorite spots, so he called ahead before dining.
“I was told that they would be practicing social distancing and the restaurant would be at 50 percent capacity,” said Santa.
Santa said he and his family requested to dine on the outdoor back patio, intentionally arriving early at 5 p.m, but on his way out, he noticed a change.
“That’s when I kind of had questions because I looked and the restaurant was completely full, which was amazing and I was happy, but I was shocked to see that it was completely full and that tables were very close to each other and they weren’t 6 feet apart,” he said.
Santa decided to send an email to the restaurant’s owner, Ron Molinaro, saying in part, quote:
“I was surprised to see that the staff were not wearing masks. Obviously you are private business and can do as you wish in regards to the masks, I was just surprised to see that choice being made.”
He explained his decision to write the email, saying, “I wasn’t demanding any sort of action or asking them to do anything. I understand that businesses have choices that they can make as a private business, but I was simply asking for transparency so that my friends and family could make an educated decision,” said Santa.
The restaurant’s owner, Molinaro, responded and offered a full refund for Santa’s three take-out meals during the pandemic and his dinner that weekend, saying, “You have a right to believe and do as you wish. Please do not step foot into my restaurant ever again.”
CLICK SCREENSHOT TO READ SANTA’S EMAIL
CLICK SCREENSHOT TO READ MOLINARO’S RESPONSE
KDKA reached out to Molinaro to see if he wanted to do an on-camera interview, but he wrote back saying he was too busy working for a living to be “drawn into social media crap.”
He did, however, send a statement that said, in part, “Il Pizzaiolo is a very busy, physically demanding restaurant. The mask quickly becomes saturated with sweat, vapor and bacteria and is very unsanitary. Staff would constantly need to change it and fuss with it. In our case it would do more harm than good.”
READ MOLINARO’S FULL STATEMENT HERE
The Allegheny County Health Department inspected Il pizzaiolo Monday and cited the restaurant for a total of 11 violations.
The “high risk” ones included lasagna and raw chicken measuring at unsafe food temperatures. The inspection also lists administrative violations, saying the restaurant’s staff was not wearing masks during the inspection.
READ THE FULL INSPECTION REPORT HERE
The Allegheny County Health Department told KDKA Wednesday that “even in the green phase, masks are required. For employees, they are required at all times. Customers are required to wear them except when seated for their meal.”
The department said a majority of recent complaints received by the Health Department’s Food Safety Program have been related to COVID-19 and about people not wearing face masks in restaurants and bars.
They said 54% of all food complaints received are COVID related and 69% of the COVID-related complaints are regarding masks.
When it comes to enforcement, the Pennsylvania State Health Department tells KDKA it can suspend a restaurant’s license, including the liquor license, for not following the recommended guidance in the green phase.
The Allegheny County Health Department said the inspector’s initial approach is to educate: “If there is a complaint about masks made against an establishment, the facility is contacted by an inspector and advised of the complaint and the orders by the governor and secretary of health. If another complaint is made against the same facility related to COVID-19, an inspector will complete an on-site inspection to investigate the complaint.”
Customers at a particular restaurant, or concerned employees, are encouraged to report any health and safety violations to their local health department.