The Casual Pint co-founder Nathan Robinette says he is standing up for local businesses by openly defying government orders to shut down bars, something he calls “unfair” as business owners are doing all they can to keep people safe and employed.
“The business owner guys and gals that I know and talk to, especially some of the breweries, everybody is trying their best to do a good job,” he told Knox News. “It would be different if it was a free-for-all out there and we were not listening and not trying to do the right thing.”
The Knox County Board of Health voted Wednesday night to close bars in the county to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The closure began Monday, and the board will reconsider the measure Aug. 19.
“Our job … is to try to stop the virus from getting and maintaining the upper hand,” board member Dr. Maria Hurt said.
‘Really unfair’ to the community
Robinette said the decision to remain open only applies to The Casual Pint locations in Bearden and Fountain City. The downtown location recently closed, and the Northshore franchise has decided not to serve beer on site.
Robinette had not spoke with representatives of the Hardin Valley location as of 1 p.m. Monday to see what their plans are for the business.
The Bearden and Fountain City locations still are at half capacity, with chairs stacked up inside. Masks are required upon entry, and sanitizing the business is a top priority for Robinette — and for many other Knoxville business owners, he said.
The Casual Pint and other local businesses have been doing everything they are supposed to do, Robinette said, and pulling the plug is “really unfair to the community as a whole.”
“I am a firm believer that we have an economy we need to take care of and preserve, and these businesses are the ones that are doing it,” he said.
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‘I am defying the order’
For the purposes of the Knox County regulation, a bar is a business that generates 50% or more of its revenue from alcohol. Businesses that offer limited restaurant services can continue to sell to-go alcohol.
When asked if there are any exceptions that would allow The Casual Pint to stay open under the order, Robinette replied with a question of his own: “Do they have the authority to do what they are doing?”
Food sales is one factor local officials say could allow a bar to stay open, depending on sales. The Casual Pint does not have a food menu, although people are allowed to bring food inside or have it delivered.
The business prides itself on being a retail store first, although the percentage of retail sales wasn’t on the top of Robinette’s mind when making his decision. Robinette said he has a “bigger mission” in staying open.
“I’ll draw the line in the sand: I am defying the order,” he said. “If the health department officials want to try and enforce fines or otherwise, I am more than prepared to then counter with a lawsuit and they can go from there.”
An ‘activist’ for local businesses
Robinette said he is on the same page as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who was the only board member to vote against the county’s measure. Jacobs cited the possibility of lawsuits against the county.
Jacobs also argued that if bars are shut down, students and other adults will simply end up partying in private spaces. He said he supported the spirit of what board members were trying to do but fought against closing the bars.
Robinette believes guidelines are in place for a reason. But he also understands firsthand these are difficult times for local businesses.
“It was definitely me trying to be an activist for the business community, as a whole, in Knoxville,” Robinette said about his decision. “If I can say something and kind of put myself out there to help, then great.”
The Bearden and Fountain City locations are open each day from noon to 8 p.m. The business is still taking online and curbside orders if customers do not want to come inside.