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UPDATE: Restaurant owner issues statement on masks

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Posted at 12:10 PM, Jun 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-28 13:36:27-04

Last week we reported that the owners of Dupuy's in Abbeville had decided that masks would not be worn in the restaurant.

They even put up signs on the doors to let customers know:

We checked with the governor's office, and they told us that masks for employees in restaurants - and any retail location - were not optional for those workers who have contact with the public. We also spoke to Dr. Tina Stefanski about the situation, who echoed what the governor told us.

On Friday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vermilion Parish increased by 35 cases, to 220. So far, five residents of the parish have died from the virus. On Sunday, the number of cases had increased by another 9, to 229, and another person had died, bringing the death toll to 6 residents of Vermilion Parish.

Today, we received a statement from the Heberts, who wanted to explain in detail their position.

Here's the full statement sent to us by the owners:

A letter from the owner....
Please forgive me if I am very passionate about my family business, my trusted employees, and my customers that mean a great deal to me—they are my life outside of my family! I have had very trying times as a small business owner trying to figure out the best way to protect myself, my family, and my business. I realize that I have offended people with my decision to not force my employees to wear masks, so I thought I should explain my position a bit further for clarification purposes.
First, I have been a member of this community my whole life, and I feel a great burden to try to please everyone that is involved, but we all know that is not possible. Second, I have to think of the people who I love and cherish, and that includes so many people, but my first priority is to my family. I, as well as my children, suffer from Marfan Syndrome, and we are all susceptible to the nasty COVID virus, and my oldest daughter also suffers from debilitating RA, and is forced to take chemo shots every week, so her immune system is extremely compromised, so we take these precautions very seriously. However, I have always taught my children that we work and we work hard for everything we have in this world, despite our ailments.
When all of this started, my husband and I had to make quick decisions, and we decided to shut down one of our restaurants and keep only our “to go” window open at our newest location. My husband was the only worker in the house, and the rest of my family stayed home and out of harm's way; however, I had terrible stress worrying about my husband getting sick and bringing it home, as all essential workers have had the same fears going to work in such uncertain times. We also have serious medical bills, and we had to keep ourselves alive with a roof over our heads, and my husband couldn’t do it alone.
Most of my employees were left to turn to unemployment, so we were left with only our best and most reliable, loyal workers because they had either been with us for many years or they were considered family. These essential workers were burning the candle at both ends trying to educate their children and work around the clock helping my husband keep our business afloat. I know many that can relate to what I’m saying especially health care providers. Even though I was not at the restaurant full time I diligently worked on keeping up with daily changes, results and uncertainties. Then the announcement was made that non essential businesses were allowed to start opening at 25% followed by 50% occupancy, and we had to make quick adjustments if we were going to be a surviving business in this economy of unknowns.
We realized that we must call in the troops to help us because there was no way we could pull off opening the dining room with the few loyal staff members that were already overworked. The problem was that no one wanted to return because they were making more money staying at home. Imagine that! Who knew unemployment would be better than your job? But we find ourselves in unusual territory during this time in our world.
We also continued researching how to keep our employees and our customers safe. We spoke to everyone we could locally, and no one seemed to be able to guide us to which protective equipment was the best for our employees to wear while waiting tables and working in the hot kitchen of a restaurant, the only consistent guidance we received was the very specific answer of “ABSOLUTELY NO GLOVES,” but NO ONE (locally or at the state level) really knew how to guide us in which masks would help our employees breath and assist their tables without putting either the employee or the customer at risk. We listened to what advice we were given, but we quickly realized that the masks surgeons and healthcare providers use were designed to accommodate a different atmosphere and environment, and they have yet to test these masks for use in few industries other than the medical field. We tried a variety of different kind of mask. It is one thing for the employees to feel ill and disoriented wearing them, but it is another when the boss can’t wear it for long without feeling faint, dizzy, and needing to be rushed to the ER. We can’t run a restaurant business from the hospital, and we had a difficult decision to make as a result of our futile efforts.
We have always had to make sacrifices for our small business as long as we have owned it, but the decisions we faced as owners of a restaurant with limited staff and very little guidance was heart wrenching. It was bad enough deciding for my family, but then, some of my employees were feeling ill on the job due to wearing a mask in a hot restaurant environment. I could not endanger my loyal, trustworthy, long-term employees who were only working to help my family stay in business. There’s also legal matters in which we face, being an employer. They did not abandon us and leave us hanging when they could have because it was easier. My kitchen staff couldn’t breathe in the heat, and we have lowered the temperature to as low as it can go. When one staff member falls due to wearing a mask, then it is time to rethink our situation. With our staff diligently checking temperatures and following guidelines to the best of their ability we had to listen to employees and the difficulty of the job wearing the recommended masks. I encourage someone to come up with a better solution for restaurant workers because the current recommendations are not sufficient. I have lost family and close friends to COVID, and I was not about to go to another “drive by” funeral, if I could help it. I have reached out to more experts about what I could do, and I did not receive any definitive answers other than “just wear them!” This was unacceptable to me, my family, and my staff. We then spoke to several of our longtime customers, who said they understood our position and would still be willing to come to eat at our establishment, despite the decision to not force employees to wear masks. We figured the world was stressful enough, this was a situation in which I felt as adults we could decide on together. As a human being I couldn’t bare another adult decision for another adult that’s capable of their own decisions. It doesn’t end there, we always have had many safety regulations and legal matters to be constantly aware of and unfortunately they didn’t disappear because of COVID 19.
Again, we are understaffed and doing our best to navigate a difficult situation for everyone. We listened to our employees and followed our gut instinct. We also decided that the best way to protect our customers was to give them the heads up, and to allow them to make their own decision about whether to come inside when only some employees wore masks. We gave them an upfront and honest answer to our dilemma, so they could decide for themselves whether to come in at their own risk, utilize take out, or go somewhere else. That’s the beauty of being an American—you have choices!
I am hurt that some people find my choices to be dangerous, evil, ignorant, distasteful, and even feel the need to shame me and threaten me and my family. I am sorry that I could not please everyone, and I am sorry that there is a lack of guidance at the local, state, and even federal level as to how to maneuver these difficult times and decisions that many small business owners are facing while trying to make a living in these scary and strange times.
No one expected or had plans in place for how we protect ourselves and our businesses during a Pandemic, so please understand that my husband and I are doing our best to protect our family first, our loyal employees, and our wonderful customers. We have not given up in trying to find the best solution that supports all aspects of our business. We understand that not everyone will support our difficult decisions, but the hateful rhetoric that has been thrown at my family is unnecessary. Now if you have viable solutions that can solve our business problem, then we encourage you to speak up, but dialogue that is meant to hurt, embarrass, or vilify myself or anyone I love and care about is certainly not welcome.
I do encourage other restaurants who have the same problem to speak up, so people know we are not the only ones facing these hard times in the restaurant industry, but some have indicated a fear in doing so, due to the horrendous backlash that can erupt from making such difficult choices. Businesses should not have reopened as quickly as they did without better guidance, and I believe as other businesses, like schools, start to reopen, we will see more people complaining about the difficulties of wearing masks while accomplishing the job at hand. I encourage you to demand that your government find solutions quickly to help protect us all from the dangerous situations we find ourselves facing in 2020. Until then, we stand by our decisions and will continue to do our best for our family, our friends, our customers, and our community because we have always been hard working contributors, and we do not plan to stop because of a virus! If you do not agree, we understand, but we cannot make everyone happy, so we do the best that we can with what we have at the time, and that’s all we can do! I wish peace and comfort to all who have been affected by this COVID crisis. God Bless our community, health care providers, essential businesses, and non essential businesses.

Dupuys and The Eatery will be closed the week of July 4th and we will see you again on Tuesday July 7th @ Dupuy’s and Wednesday July 8th @ The Eatery. As always we look forward to serving you again soon!
Sincerely,
Jody and Tonya Hebert