Pizza Inn Operator Battles Shutdown Orders in N.M. With 'Zor's Backing
Employees at Michael and CaraBeth Moore's Pizza Inn restaurant in Hobbs, New Mexico, rallied in support of reopening dine-in service.
Michael Moore, a Pizza Inn franchisee in Hobbs, New Mexico, spent the first week of August preparing to open for outdoor dining, going to considerable expense to put up a 30-foot-by-50-foot tent, outfitting servers and more. "We got it open," he said, on Friday, August 7. "We had a court order late that afternoon so we had to shut everything down."
Reached on August 20, Moore said he is enormously frustrated by the governor's on-again, off-again shutdown orders, and the state supreme court's ruling that the governor had the authority to fine $5,000 a day for those who violated them.
"Today is day 13 of no revenues at all. We're looking at the 25th before we get reopened again," he said, referring to August 25. He believes he was targeted after appearing on a Fox & Friends show earlier in the month in defiance of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. "The governor is just retaliating and trying to keep us shut down as long as possible," said Moore.
Brandon Solano, CEO of Rave Restaurant Group, parent of Pizza Inn and Pie Five Pizza, said Moore called him before filing his court challenges. "He explained to me what happened," and said "we've been ordered to shut again." "The governor is not having to look all these front-line workers in the eye and tell them she doesn't have jobs for them. Michael has to do that," Solano said.
"This is a government-mandated recession," Solano said, adding he and Moore looked at the data in the two counties where Moore operates. "One county had one COVID death and the other had zero. This heavy-handed bureaucracy, and dictating to the American populace and American business, we don't think it's legal."
Solano acknowledged that in many systems, franchisors are sending default notices to franchisees who violate shutdown orders. "We're a small brand," with about 150 Pizza Inn restaurants. "I think these larger brands have to operate in an arena of political correctness. I think it's wrong, and that's why we get to have a say. That's what they build courthouses for," Solano said.
"I respect Michael. He's a leader in our system. I know he's going to run a safe restaurant," he said.
Pizza Inn has implemented a trademarked safety system called Right Way Buffet, and Moore said his operation was following it closely and successfully once the governor allowed businesses to reopen dining rooms at 50 percent capacity, on June 1. They had been shut completely down starting in March.
"All of a sudden the governor says, restaurants are the source" of rising COVID cases. "But now restaurants, with her supposed science, are shut down, and that's what I'm challenging," Moore said. "Restaurant dining is the only thing shut down in the state. I'm going to challenge that."
Before Moore decided to reopen, he spoke with his 90 employees among three restaurants and asked them if they were willing to come back to work. "100 percent, they wanted to work," he said.
Said Solano: "In summary, Michael's employees want to be there at work. Michael's customers want to come in. This is Michael's lawsuit, this is not Pizza Inn's lawsuit, but we have prepared an amicus brief" in support of Moore's position. "So we are all in, and we think it's a matter of choice, for the customers of New Mexico."