Upstate NY restaurants sue to reopen indoor dining: ‘It’s all about equality’


Upstate New York restaurant owner Paul Santora said Thursday he is suing Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding the indoor dining ban amid the coronavirus pandemic because “for us, it’s all about equality in being open.”

“It’s losing a holiday season,” the owner of Santora’s Pizza Pub and Grill in Erie County said on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, stressing that restaurants in Western New York, which consists of eight counties, are only closed in Erie County.

“Everywhere else in our district and everywhere around us basically are operating fully and [are] having the best season of their careers, and right around the corner from us it’s the same way,” Santora said.

He is not allowed to host customers for indoor dining because of coronavirus restrictions imposed by Cuomo, even as the state released contact-tracing data that showed bars and restaurants accounted for just 1.43% of COVID-19 cases in the three months ending in November.

Erie County is considered an “orange zone” in New York state. Indoor dining is prohibited in “orange zones,” so restaurants, bars, cafes and other eateries are only allowed to provide outdoor dining, takeout and delivery service, according to New York’s rules.

“For us, we really need the message to be consistent,” Santora said. “One day they’re going and they’re concentrating on percentage rates of positive cases and shuts us down to orange, and then all of a sudden it changes the hospital beds and it keeps us in orange.”

“It just seems to be slated to one county and one area and one specific business,” Santora added, referencing the restaurant business and stressing that every other industry is “wide open.”  

Some Erie County customers now frequent restaurants in nearby Niagara County, which is considered a “yellow zone,” in which indoor and outdoor dining is permitted.

As of Thursday, Erie County has reported nearly 40,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,130 deaths.

Santora joined dozens of other upstate New York restaurant and bar owners who are fighting back against the ban on indoor dining by suing Cuomo in an effort to reopen.

WKBW-TV reported Monday that according to the owners of another upstate New York business involved in the lawsuit, a judge “is telling the state to reach a compromise on bars and restaurants or provide scientific evidence to support the COVID-19 restrictions on the businesses.”

Santora’s attorney Corey Hogan told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday the last time he and his client were in court, they brought up the figures released by New York state that showed bars and restaurants accounted for a scant amount of the cases from September to November.

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“These were figures that Gov. Cuomo himself had mentioned in his Dec. 11 press conference,” Hogan said. “He’s the one that indicated to us that numbers are numbers, they don’t lie.”

“And we suggested to the judge, forgetting the constitutionality issues, let’s just look at the fairness of it,” he continued. “The state itself has admitted that restaurants are not the problem. Gov. Cuomo said that. He also said hair salons are not the problem. They’ve been closed down. Now they’ve been allowed to open.”

“So we said to the judge, ‘Judge, this doesn’t make any sense. There’s no justification from the scientific perspective, from an industry perspective, from a medical perspective, from a legal perspective to keep restaurants closed. They’ve been closed for five months out of the last ten months, please let them open’ and he suggested that we come back to court,” Hogan went on to say.

A spokesperson with Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

However, in an earlier statement responding to another Erie County business owner’s lawsuit, a Cuomo spokesperson said, “We get sued virtually every day for virtually every action taken during this pandemic, and frankly I’ve lost track of all the frivolous suits filed against us.”

“We know some people are unhappy, but better to be unhappy than sick or worse,” the spokesperson added.

Santora noted Thursday that if he and other upstate New York business owners are not allowed to reopen for indoor dining, they will “slowly deteriorate.”

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“Restaurants in Western New York, especially in Buffalo, are part of the culture and to lose that culture is very discerning and we don’t want to make that happen,” Santora said. “We want to open.”



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