By Wilson Walker

DANVILLE (KPIX 5) – A defiant restaurant owner in Danville is still keeping outdoor dining open, weeks after the county entered its stay-at-home order and despite ever-growing fines.

Staying open for outdoor dining despite the Contra Costa County health order, Incontro owner Gabe Moufarrej said he wants the public to know he’s doing it for one reason. His employees.

“You know, we want to tell people that we are not defying the order just to defy the order,” Moufarrej told KPIX 5. “We are doing it because we have many employees that would’ve been home without a paycheck.”

A waiter takes an order at Incontro restaurant in Danville on December 29, 2020, weeks after a shelter-in-place order went into effect in Contra Costa County. (CBS)

A waiter takes an order at Incontro restaurant in Danville on December 29, 2020, weeks after a shelter-in-place order went into effect in Contra Costa County. (CBS)

Moufarrej may well be the last restaurant owner standing in defiance of the county’s shelter-in-place order. Even the other restaurants that initially stayed open have since stowed their outdoor equipment.

The toll this has taken in Danville is unmistakable. Nearby, one restaurant owner is using empty chairs to pay tribute to laid-off workers.

“You know, this industry has been hit so hard. For a lot of these people, it’s almost bankruptcy,” Moufarrej said. “People can’t pay their rent, people can’t pay their mortgages, they have little kids running around. It’s so sad that people are going through this situation.”

For staying open, Incontro is now getting hit with a $1,000 fine every day it is observed operating, and those fines are being delivered, in-person, by Danville Chief of Police Allan Shields.

He offered sympathetic thoughts on the restaurant’s decision.

“This is despair and frustration, and these are good people,” Shields said. “These are good people, they’re trying to do good things, and they employ a lot of the people that live in and around this area. They’re good people, I get that, so that’s what makes this tough and that’s what makes this sting.”

Shields said he can only issue fines, but has, per his duty, also informed county and state officials about the violations. So why haven’t they taken stronger action?

“We have a case right now in the Contra Costa courts,” Moufarrej explains.

That pending case has produced the current stalemate, next hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Until then, what do locals think about Inconrto’s intractability?

“The people I talk to, my friends, they are not upset by it,” says Jane Thomas. “They’re more upset by everything being closed down and they are about someone being able to stay open.”