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Bend Mexican restaurant under OSHA investigation for indoor dining

Mazatlan draws support and is very busy, but could face hefty fines

BEND, Ore (KTVZ) -- Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant is fully open for business, and that's bringing them big crowds -- and scrutiny from state regulators who look into complaints when businesses don't follow COVID-19 safety rules.

The Mexican restaurant on South Third Street in Bend has indoor service and no signs displaying a requirement for its customers to wear a mask.

That's despite Deschutes County’s status as one of 29 "Extreme Risk" counties under Gov. Kate Brown’s current COVID-19 mandate, and thus restricting restaurants to take-out and outdoor dining only.

Sara Robles, whose parents own the restaurant, told NewsChannel 21, "We did take some government loans, and we're not making enough money to pay our employees, or pay our bills in the building, let alone pay that back with interest."

And amid rising numbers of Central Oregon restaurants upset enough about their situation to reject those rules, Mazatlan has found itself busier than ever, along with some critical of their move.

Robles' brother, Sal, added, "This is definitely making a difference. We appreciate all the support that we've been getting from the community. We've been getting a lot of positivity. It was a hard decision to make.

"We thought there was going to be a lot of repercussion," he added. "We haven't seen as much of it. We've seen a lot more love than we have hate."

But amid complaints, both locations in Bend and Redmond also have the attention of Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA).

Aaron Corvin, public information officer for OSHA, told NewsChannel 21 on Wednesday, "The complaints are alleging that the employer is open to indoor dining, despite the restrictions."

OSHA is evaluating those complaints, but when NewsChannel 21 entered the restaurant around the noon hour on Wednesday, many of the tables were full, with very little spacing between them.

Corvin said if the investigation into the complaints proves to be true, the restaurant could face a fine between $8,900 and $126,600.

"That would determine what we're seeing on the ground, in terms of facts,” Corvin said "So it could be the number of employees who are exposed, what we're seeing on the ground in terms of measures that have been taken."

He added that a willful violation could mean a stiffer penalty, which can be appealed, but the restaurant still must correct the violation in the meantime. That's something other business owners aren't willing to take.

Stewart Fritchman, the owner of Bellatazza, a coffee shop in Bend, said, "Defying the order creates a lot of the problems for folks that are following it. Because if the case rates stay high due to the defiance, it harms all restaurants "

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Jack Hirsh

Jack Hirsh is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jack here.


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