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Missouri Restaurant Association joins lawsuit challenging St. Louis County COVID restrictions 

The Missouri Restaurant Association (MRA) joined a lawsuit against St. Louis County after County Executive Sam Page announced new restrictions for bars and restaurants amid climbing COVID-19 cases. 

Among the new guidelines is an order for establishments to reduce capacity to just 25 percent. Establishments are also relegated to outdoor or curbside service only. The new restrictions, announced last week, took effect Tuesday morning. 

“Restaurants in St. Louis County will be devastated by this shutting down of in-person dining,” MRA CEO Bob Bonney said. “Many industry employees will find themselves out of work with the holidays approaching. This temporary order will likely result in the permanent closure of many restaurants across the county.”

The suit was initially suggested by Bartolino’s Restaurant, a family-owned Italian eatery in St. Louis County. The lawsuit was filed against Page, St. Louis County Department of Public Health Director Emily Doucette, and the county itself, where it was filed.  

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“We take this virus very seriously,” Bartolino’s owner Mike Saracino told The Missouri Times. “But how can you go to the casino, how can you go to get your hair done, but you can’t go out to eat? You can drive three miles west and eat in the city, but the rules are different here. We’re not forcing anyone to come in the door if they don’t feel safe. Why are they picking on the restaurants?”

The city of St. Louis maintains a cap of 50 percent capacity in restaurants and bars and has not issued orders prohibiting dine-in services. 

Saracino said numerous restaurants in the county had agreed to throw their weight behind the suit. 

The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association supported the suit on social media, saying, “Farm families need Missouri restaurants to succeed, which can be done safely.”

“Our public health orders are firmly grounded in law,” Page said during a press conference Monday morning. “This virus has disadvantaged everyone.”  

Page did not respond to a request for comment. 

Other family-owned restaurants are taking a different approach to the issue. Aaron Teitelbaum, owner of Herbie’s, a French restaurant with locations in both St. Louis County and in the less restricted city limits, said he and a group of fellow business owners were hoping to work alongside the county on future decisions.

“We just don’t believe in suing the officials who are working hard to figure this whole thing out,” he said. “We’re working with a group called ‘Saving St. Louis Restaurants from Extinction.’ Our goal is to get in front of Sam Page and act as a panel for him so that when decisions are being made, he would have a group of restaurants that are respected in the community to help him with these decisions.”

The new St. Louis County restrictions extended beyond restaurants and bars: prohibiting groups of more than 10 people from gathering, restricting all businesses to 25 percent capacity, mandating mask use for anyone who is at least six years old while in public, and requiring people to stay home unless necessary. 

St. Louis city and surrounding counties have not initiated similar restrictions.

This story has been updated with additional information on the lawsuit.