3 Norwalk restaurants told to temporarily close for violating reopening rules

NORWALK — Three Norwalk restaurants were ordered to temporarily close last month, and a handful of others were given written warnings, for violating reopening protocols issued by the state.

El Tenampa, Our House and El Mexicano Restaurant were all sent cease-and desist-notices on Aug. 10, saying they needed to close immediately for failing to comply with guidelines for reopening under COVID-19 set by Gov. Ned Lamont.

The notices were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media via a Freedom of Information Act request. The request — filed to the city on Aug. 3 and fulfilled Sept. 16 — includes all of Norwalk’s reports or write-ups relating to restaurants violating coronavirus regulations from May through August.

According to the notices, all three restaurants ordered to temporarily close were serving alcoholic drinks without food, which is against Lamont’s reopening guidelines. El Tenampa was also cited for having tables closer than 6 feet apart, not meeting the requirements for bar seating and not having staff wear face coverings. El Mexicano also failed to meet the requirements for bar seating and did not have 6 feet of empty space between customers.

Inspection reports from Aug. 10 state that all three restaurants were only serving chips to customers, while El Tanampa was letting people sit a bar with no barriers installed.

A manager at El Mexicano said they were able to reopen last month after working with the Health Department. A call to Our House states the number has since been disconnected. El Tenampa did not return a request for comment Thursday, but the restaurant appeared to have since reopened.

Five other Norwalk restaurants were issued written warning notices for violating guidelines.

Public Wine Bar, Bandido Mexican Restaurant, Tablao Wine Bar and Restaurant, and El Rancho were all issued warnings in July for selling alcohol without food. Public, Bandido and Tablao were all issued warnings on the Fourth of July around 12 a.m.

The reports also show Saltwater Restaurant and Bar was issued a violation for staying open past hours set in one of Lamont’s executive orders regarding outdoor dining guidelines. An employee at Saltwater Restaurant said Thursday that, since the warning, they have not run into further issues.

Other restaurant inspection reports show some establishments were issued verbal warnings or asked to adjust on site.

Manny Fernandez, a manager at Public Wine Bar, said police told him the restaurant needed to shut down for the night on July 4 after letting people drink without ordering food when the table was about to put in their order. The wine bar had been keeping its kitchen open late in order to comply with the governor’s guidelines for serving alcoholic drinks with food, and have worked to ensure guests order either a main course or food when placing a drink.

“We haven’t had any issues since then,” he said. “The coronavirus thing has changed the world.”

Christian Villa, who does marketing for Bandido, said it has been difficult to comply with reopening guidelines because the standards vary depending on who’s inspecting.

“The one thing that’s very noticeable is there’s multiple people that come and do regular check ups from the Health Department, Zoning Department and Police Department,” he said Thursday. “Everyone gives out their best vision on what’s OK and what’s not. There’s no clear direction of what types of food consumption needs to be permitted.”

Villa said Bandido has had no incidents since its warning in early July, when he says many other South Norwalk restaurants were issued verbal warnings about following guidelines. The restaurants have since banded together, he said, to ask the city for a more uniform approach to enforcement — but they have not run into much luck.

“We all care about our own health and the health of people visiting,” he said. “We want people to feel comfortable.”

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