SALISBURY – The owner of The Dolphin Bar & Grill accused town officials Wednesday of singling him out for punishment when they ordered him to shutter his Salisbury Beach restaurant for violating state and local COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think this is personal,” Kevin Buswell said during a phone interview.
Town Manager Neil Harrington sharply denied Buswell’s claim about his closed restaurant, saying the violations were “documented and witnessed” by several people.
“The town does not enforce anything on a personal basis,” Harrington said.
The Health Department issued its cease-and-desist order Saturday and fined the Ocean Front restaurant $1,300 for violating state and local health regulations by allowing patrons to participate in karaoke despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The cease-and-desist order also said the restaurant violated regulations for “indoor and/or outdoor entertainment” and food service “and is thereby endangering the general public.”
The order marks the second time local officials responded to complaints that Buswell was violating coronavirus regulations since they were enacted in March.
Police shut down the restaurant in late March after learning Buswell was allowing customers to drink there in violation of Gov. Charlie Baker’s order March 17 that all bars be closed to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Even though the front door was boarded up, Buswell allowed customers to enter the establishment in back and drink there, according to local officials.
But last month, Baker allowed restaurants to use bar seating for food service. Patrons are required to order food when consuming alcohol or restaurants run the risk of violating state and local restrictions.
Buswell vehemently denied his establishment allowed karaoke and said the March incident was misinterpreted by town officials.
Buswell also said he would appeal the fine and closure and if he did not receive satisfaction locally, he would plead his case to the state.
On Wednesday, Buswell said the people in the restaurant that day in March were employees or their family members eating food that would have gone bad.
“I’m doing everything right,” he said.
Buzzell added that he questioned the wisdom of one person, in this case Health Agent Jack Morris, having enough power to shut down a business on his own and said such decisions should be made by a town board.
When asked why he felt singled out by the town, Buswell mentioned three Salisbury bars that do not have a kitchen yet remain open.
Harrington said those establishments have food service licenses, meaning they were allowed to serve customers, “which is required to serve alcohol.”
The town manager said Buswell’s complaint is “irrelevant” and a common refrain from business owners disciplined by the town.
“They blame others or say they are being picked on,” Harrington said.
He said other businesses have been fined or warned since COVID-19 restrictions were enacted but acknowledged the town had not issued a cease-and-desist order until Saturday.
“The vast majority (of businesses), I believe, are doing their best to follow the governor’s orders,” Harrington said.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.