Government Goons Shut Down Hampton Restaurant

Photos by Bryn Mahan

by Kerry Dougherty

Like many Virginia restaurateurs, The Pepes were relieved when the governor finally allowed outdoor dining to resume earlier this month. The owners of several Peninsula eateries had been surviving on take-out orders since Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order closed all Virginia restaurants in March.

They reopened The Barking Dog at the Sunset Creek Marina two weeks ago. It’s a casual, open-air burger and dog joint with a roof, picnic tables, benches with backs along the perimeter and zippered sailcloth windows that roll up.

More tent than than restaurant.

But some insufferable busybody reported them to authorities, claiming that The Barking Dog was an indoor restaurant and that the owners were violating the governor’s idiotic ban on indoor dining.

Which raises the question: WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

An apparatchik from the Hampton-Peninsula Health District was more than happy to head to The Barking Dog on Thursday afternoon to put an end to any dining experience that wasn’t completely exposed to the elements. Once there he spied six people dining at three separate picnic tables, all socially distanced. He immediately announced that the restaurant was closed.

Almost as if he’d been watching “Casablanca”  to learn how it’s done.

The waitress on duty phoned Cara Pepe.

“I told her to box up their food and comp their tabs,” Ms. Pepe told me. “I was told the health inspector were unpleasant. He told the waitress we weren’t allowed to have customers under a roof.”

No eating under a roof. There’s a common-sense rule for you.

An official with the health district admitted to The Daily Press that the agent’s technique had been heavy-handed. He said the diners should have been permitted to finish eating before the restaurant was closed.


This is how health officials are interpreting the governor’s decree? Is the entire state and every single agency suddenly run by knuckleheaded knob turners?

“We’re an outdoor restaurant,” Cara Pepe insisted. “We have no air conditioning or heat. It’s hot in there in the summer and in the winter people have to wear their coats. This is just a covered deck.”


The Pepes are angry. And they have every right to be. They’ve now put a few tables on the dock. When it rains, their business evaporates.

Everywhere you go in Tidewater, restaurant owners are trying desperately to keep their businesses afloat. They’re nothing if not inventive. Many owners have set up tents in parking lots to try to comply with the governors idiotic order. Others have slapped tables on sidewalks and parking lots.

But bad weather, like the rain that’s plagued the area for two weeks, is hampering even that.

Many of these folks have worked for years in the tough restaurant industry only to see the governor’s tyrannical edicts destroy their businesses.

Let’s be honest, the behavior of the health district last week had nothing to do with health or with protecting the community from Covid-19.

It was about power. And control.

This sort of bullying borders on harassment of already beleaguered small businesses.

It needs to stop. Now. Reopen Virginia’s restaurants.


This column was published originally at

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11 responses to “Government Goons Shut Down Hampton Restaurant”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Cannot wait for the next round of “best states for business” rankings. We now belong in the bottom 10. And here’s every employer’s nightmare: The state turning up to see if the employer is at fault for a disease that could have been picked up anywhere. (In the case of a nursing home, it easily could be work-related.) This is why the shutdown will result in a long and deep recession, these liability wrangles:

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Depends. Do other States supply ventilators in the workplace?

      1. John Harvie Avatar
        John Harvie

        Inane comment…

  2. ksmith8953 Avatar

    The caller and the health inspector have been inside for too long.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      The caller was probably a competitor without a porch.

  3. djrippert Avatar

    Remember the hierarchy:

    1. Elites
    2. Useful Idiots
    3. Sheep

    Sounds like two sheep (the filer of the complaint and the health inspector) acting on orders from a useful idiot (Northam) to implement an anti-small business / pro big government policy valuable for the elite.

    Remember that Comrade Fidel Castro, hero of the people, died with a net worth of $900M stolen from the sheep with help from the useful idiots.

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Most medical experts advise that the coronavirus is spread more easily indoors. That is the primary reason that restaurants have been order to close. In response to the demand and need to begin to reopen business, while still being cautious, the Governor has allowed restaurants to open their 0pen-air patios. For some folks, this is not good enough. Instead of giving the governor credit for beginning to open the economy, albeit cautiously, they want it all. They want nothing to do with his “tyrannical” and “idiotic” actions.

    As for this particular establishment, it looks pretty closed in to me, but I admit that it is a close call. The local health department should have acted with discretion and politeness.

  5. VDOTyranny Avatar

    If you’ve ever had an ABC license, you’d know this tactic has been utilized by social conservatives for a long time (particularly when their innocent little betty sue comes home drunk and blames the corner bar (the empty beer cans in the back yard, those must be the neighbors kids, not my sweet little susie.))

    The anonymous complaint lines are all too easily abused by competitors, disgrunted employees, unreasonable patrons or others with an axe to grind. Combine that with regulations intentionally clear as mud and young, idealist regulators happy to provide an excuse for their jobs.

    Lately, around here, DEQ has been on the rampage. Word is (from local gov’t sources), there isn’t enough work for the DEQ staff so they’ve keeping themselves busy nitpicking. Guessing VDH will go on a hiring spree before long to help enforce their new found duties. Should be fun.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Just heard on a conference call about health inspectors hassling a major Southside truck stop because not everybody had masks. Shutting that down will cost the state and county some serious moollah. The petty dictators have the bit….

      Never has so much economic damage been done for so little actual need, outside of the truly confined spaces (nursing homes, prisons, hospital wards, some other cramped work spaces.) In March it was ignorance, now it is inertia.

      1. Fortunately, there’s the consolation that no one seems to be enforcing the mask law for protesters and rioters.

  6. Top-GUN Avatar

    So,,, hey,,, I thought the emergency was we didn’t want to overwhelm our health care systemmmm.
    Mission Accomplished…
    Still waiting for someone to tell me what the emergency is now…
    Evidently no one on this board has been able to find out…

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