The Boston Licensing Board addressed representatives from five different North End restaurants at its January 11 emergency hearing for alleged violations of the state’s COVID-19 indoor dining restrictions.
According to officers with the Boston Police Department responsible for conducting inspections in the neighborhood, the restaurants — Bricco, Cantina Italiana, the Daily Catch, Giacomo’s, and Strega — were in violation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s executive order limiting restaurant’s to 25 percent of total seating capacity. The alleged violations occurred on December 31, 2020 (at Catina Italiana and Strega), and January 9, 2021 (at Bricco, the Daily Catch, and Giacomo’s).
Cantina Italiana owner John De Simone said that he and his staff had been diligent throughout the pandemic, going “above and beyond” to adhere to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, but that they were struggling on New Year’s Eve to comply with a statewide COVID-19 guideline that limits each party’s meal to 90 minutes because guests were gathering in their foyer and reservations were lagging and overlapping.
The restaurant’s total capacity is 180, reduced to 45 under the state’s current guideline; it is alleged to have had approximately 100 patrons seated inside on New Year’s Eve. Licensing Board chairwoman Kathleen Joyce was incredulous, suggesting that De Simone’s restaurant should have been more prepared to cope with a busy holiday. “We’re in a public health crisis, and you have a responsibility,” said Joyce. “There are no excuses.”
Nick Varano, whose Strega restaurant is alleged to have been occupied at nearly 70 percent capacity on New Year’s Eve, apologized to the board for the lapse, saying: “We were wrong, we screwed up, let’s not let it happen again.”
Daily Catch owner Maria Freddura called the capacity caps “distasteful,” but agreed that it was important to abide by them. Her restaurant, which can accommodate just 20 patrons, is alleged to have been occupied at more than 50 percent capacity when inspectors arrived on January 9. Freddura told the board that the restaurant only had 21 total customers the 10 hours it was open during the day, adding that it was difficult to operate with such low sales.
This is not the first time North End restaurants have been in hot water for alleged COVID-19 violations: In June 2020, the Licensing Board reprimanded North End restaurants for noncompliance with outdoor dining rules. (North End restaurants are certainly not the only restaurants alleged to have been in violation of COVID-19 guidelines.)
Restaurants and other businesses in Massachusetts must continue to adhere to a 25 percent capacity cap until at least January 24. In Boston, the 25 percent cap extends until at least January 27. Boston restaurants that violate the state’s COVID-19 guidelines could have their liquor licenses suspended, so the stakes for compliance are high.
• Restaurant Capacity Caps Will Remain in Place in Massachusetts for at Least Two Additional Weeks [EBOS]
• Boston Licensing Board Reprimands North End Restaurants for Noncompliance With COVID-19 Outdoor Dining Rules [EBOS]
• Boston Licensing Board to Reprimand Beer Gardens for Non-Compliance With Social Distance Regulations [EBOS]