LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. — The sign in the waiting area said, "come on in and dine in with us," and the diners did. Tables were full at Mitchem's Kitchen in Vale Monday night.
In a defiance of the governor's executive order stating North Carolina restaurants can be take-out or delivery only, owner and Lincoln County commission chair Carrol Mitchem opened for full service.
"I felt like it was time for someone to take a stand," Mitchem said.
A sign posted on the restaurant's front door asked people with symptoms to refrain from coming inside. There was hand sanitizer on display, and an employee behind the front counter was asking some of the people waiting for tables to queue outside. Tables also appeared to be spaced apart several feet.
However, wait staff were not wearing masks nor gloves, as some have been encouraged to do in South Carolina, where dine-in service is now allowed.
People coming for dinner service said they felt safe.
"You come here and you eat with 40 to 50 people, and you go to Lowe's and you're bumping shoulders with 150 to 200 people. I just don't really see the difference," said Gene Bryant.
"It's time to get on with our life. It's the point where it's do or die," said Rena Halk.
The Lincoln County Sheriff served Mitchem a citation at the county commissioners meeting that night. It says it did so "after receiving complaints from the general public and conducting an investigation."
Sheriff Bill Beam issued a statement that read: “I may not personally approve of all the Emergency Orders issued by Governor Cooper...local law enforcement shall enforce these orders."
“No law enforcement officer has the authority to decide which laws are and are not Constitutional.”
The sheriff went on to state,"Governor Cooper has the authority... to remove elected officials."
Mitchem says he has no regrets about his decision.
"I'll deal with it in September. I've got a court date," said Mitchem. "I've got no plans on closing."
If coronavirus trends in North Carolina hold steady, the state could be poised for limited dine-in service as part of phase two reopening in just a few days.
WCNC Charlotte asked Mitchem why he didn't want to wait to reopen until the end of the week, when phase one could possibly end.
"I don't think anyone is secure in what phase two is going to be," said Mitchem.