Cariboo Restaurant on Queen Street

OKANOGAN — Diana Oestreich, owner of the Cariboo Restaurant in Okanogan, opened normally last Thursday, ignoring the governor’s new order shutting down indoor dining. She presented it as a “peaceful protest” and served a small number of regular customers who came in to support her. She said she did so in a safe manner, following all recommended guidelines, and the spacious restaurant - with its 5.5 foot high booths - lends itself to providing more than adequate distance between patrons. Staff usually includes only herself and one cook, further limiting exposure.

Friday morning, Oestreich had a visit from Okanogan County Public Health inspector Patrick Dunn. He said that the restaurant had to close down, and remaining open for such a protest wasn’t permitted. He admitted that the multiple restaurants located at the 12 Tribes Casino only three miles away were allowed to be open for indoor seating, as they are under tribal jurisdiction. She refused to close and kick out the handful of supporters currently there, and said that her 100% marks on her most recent health department inspections means that she runs a clean and safe establishment.

A couple hours later, barely more than the travel time needed, a Labor & Industries employee out of the East Wenatchee L&I office showed up wanting to speak to Oestreich about her restaurant. That turned into a two-hour “interrogation” by the L&I inspector, Colleen Bowen. Bowen assessed a fine for the restaurant being open Thursday, and warned Oestreich about further daily penalties if she stayed open. At the time, Bowen couldn’t say what the amount of the fine would be, only that it was “hundreds of dollars”. L&I later informed Oestreich that a $900 penalty was being assessed against her for the single day opening.

In a later 40-minute phone call with an unidentified L&I supervisor, Oestreich was threatened with further fines of $10,000 and immediate jail time if she persisted in keeping the restaurant open, protest or not. Reluctantly, in the face of overwhelming threats from the state, she has closed her restaurant for now.

The Cariboo Restaurant Booths
The Cariboo Restaurant Booths

 In the course of the L&I site inspection, it was found that the restaurant didn’t have a required Accident Prevention Program (APP) document written and posted. Because L&I had never been to the restaurant previously in the 5 years that Oestreich has owned it, the oversight wasn’t found earlier. Now, despite the fact that for years L&I apparently didn’t care enough to check whether the document existed or not, they insisted that Oestreich write it immediately, covering herself and her single employee. The example document provided by the bureaucratic agency comes to 36 pages. They gave her one business day to provide an acceptable, formal document and threatened her with an additional $1200 penalty if she didn’t meet this deadline. Oestreich managed to make an appeal, stating technical difficulties, and L&I changed the deadline to three business days. She didn’t understand why the agency was in such a hurry over it, especially since they had just forced the restaurant to close.

Oestreich feels that restaurants are being unfairly targeted. The Governor’s latest regulations are having an extreme impact on her business, while retail businesses continue to operate with little changes. The 25% indoor occupancy restriction for retail stores does little to impact operations at large stores such as Walmart and Home Depot. Under normal operating conditions, these stores rarely exceed 25% maximum capacity except perhaps on the busiest days of the year such as Black Friday.

Some would ask if Oestreich could simply switch to takeout to survive until December 16th, when the orders might expire and she could perhaps reopen. However, she’s been down that road before, in mid-March. For the first week after the governor shut down indoor dining, the restaurant averaged five takeout orders per day. Very soon, it was down to one order a day, which is certainly not enough to support running a restaurant. Then it was down to zero orders per day, and she closed by mid-April.

She says that experience made it obvious that takeout food really doesn’t work for her restaurant’s clientele. It’s mostly older customers who come in for a sit-down meal, and to socialize a bit in the warm and relaxed atmosphere of the place, which is entirely lost without indoor dining. Her customers certainly aren’t going to sit outside in the cold winter weather either.

When the specter of the new restrictions continuing until sometime in the spring was raised as a possibility, Oestreich said that the historic Cariboo Restaurant wouldn’t survive that long. She would try to open temporarily somehow, to clear out the food inventory that she has in storage, and then close permanently.

During the last business shutdown in the spring, Oestreich says she looked at the forgivable PPP loans that were then being distributed from the Small Business Administration, which were intended to preserve jobs in badly affected small businesses. However, she thought the situation would be very temporary and she very generously wanted to save the money in the fund for those who might need it more than she did at the time, such as affected businesses with more employees relying on them. But with the closures and restrictions that have dragged on slowly for many months now, bleeding her and the restaurant, Oestreich is now regretfully reconsidering her position.

Oestreich is telling her story to Celski Law Firm in Kennewick, to see if they will take her case. The firm made an offer on Facebook to represent small businesses, pro bono, that stay open in defiance of the governor and are fined as a result.

 

“Small businesses...if you chose to stay open and are fined, we will represent your business Pro Bono to fight the fine. As a small business ourselves, we understand that these new restrictions may result in the closures of many of our fellow businesses and our community as a whole. In an effort to support our community, Celski Law will offer these Pro Bono services to these businesses in an effort to fight these new restrictions. Let’s keep our community thriving together!” – Celski Law Firm on Facebook

Log in to comment


Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #21 1 year 5 months ago
A GoFundMe campaign has been started for the restaurant here:
www.gofundme.com/f/pay-the-caribous-unco...tional-l-amp-i-fines
Mike-OCP replied the topic: #85 1 year 1 month ago
It is beyond belief that this local business owner as of today 3-18-21has been assessed fines exceeding $200,000.000
(two-hundred-thousand-dollars) for defying unconstitutional lock-down mandates. It's also beyond belief and Marxist
in it's very nature that local citizens and Okanogan County Health Department employess have "snitched" on her.
This family has a right to make a living and also has the right to, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
I hope she sends L&I message with not one cent attached. Shameful that county officials have not stopped and stood up against this Tyranny that has harshly effected this family.

Mike-Okanogan County Patriots