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L&I to collect fines from Spiffy’s despite owner claiming he’s ‘not liable’

Spiffy's Restaurant in Chehalis. (Photo from owner)

UPDATE, 1/22: A previous version of this article stated that Spiffy’s would no longer have to pay fines levied by L&I now that it has shut down indoor dining service. It now reflects the most current information, with L&I stating that it still intends to enforce those fines.

It was over a month ago when Rod Samuelson, owner of Spiffy’s Restaurant in Chehalis, made quite a stir after telling KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that he was going to stay open in defiance of the state’s shutdown order for restaurants. Now, just after the restaurant’s 50th anniversary on Jan. 1, Spiffy’s has closed its doors for indoor dining after facing $400,419 in total fines from the state.

Earlier this week, a judge removed the restraining order that had been on the restaurant. On Thursday, Samuelson claimed that all the fines had been forgiven as long as Spiffy’s stays “legal.”

“If we continue to abide by L&I’s edict, which is, of course, basically our governor’s, then we’re OK. We’re fine,” he said. “And we’re not liable for any of this $400,000 that they’re talking about.”

That’s not what L&I says, though, stating Friday that “these fines are real,” and that it intends to follow through on enforcing them.

“There is an appeals process, and sometimes fines are adjusted as part of that,” L&I’s Tim Church told KIRO Radio. “In this specific case, Spiffy’s did not appeal the first two groups of fines and citations from L&I. They had 15 days to do that, but did not. As a result, those citations and fines have become final orders and we are moving forward with them.”

As for why Samuelson originally kept indoor dining open despite the mounting fines from the state, he says it was something he did for his employees.

“Our employees had applied for unemployment, and they were getting the run around,” he recalled. “They were making the phone calls. … There’s no doors open, of course, everything had to be done either by phone or internet. And they were getting stymied in both directions. So they were desperate. There was mortgage and rent and food and all these things.”

Many of his employees also have families to care for, and have been with Spiffy’s for years — four of them for 34 years, and several for 20 years or more.

“They were family, you might say, to myself and my wife,” he said. “So anyway, we made the decision to open to give them some compensation for their employment. … And it wasn’t about us initially. Although we profited by it, it was an excellent month.”

December, Samuelson says, was the best month for Spiffy’s in the 50 years it has been open.

“The people were so … overjoyed that we were open,” he said. “I can’t say that I heard one negative comment in all that time. I’m sure there might have been somebody. I mean, there may have been some that said, you know, my steak was too tough, or I didn’t get my eggs on time, or whatever, but I didn’t hear any comments that were negative to us being open.”

“We had a lot of patriots, of course, supporting the place, a lot, even the news people were very gracious, for the most part,” he added.

While Spiffy’s has now closed its doors, Samuelson says it wasn’t because of the fines.

“The $400,000 didn’t enter my mind,” he said. “I can’t name one business or person that has been fined or threatened to be fined in our state that it’s actually happened, first of all.”

He went on to say there were a lot of other things to be considered.

“One, I’m not a young man anymore, and this is getting to be a kind of an effort now, a lot of pressure here,” he said. “We’ve kind of set the tone already for many, many businesses. There’s a lot of businesses that are open that you don’t read about — many, many businesses that are smaller. But, I mean, I know dinner houses that are open, and other bars and restaurants, pubs. So I just decided, well, hey, we started something, and it’s got some momentum, and I think we’re going to just sit back.”

Between the new president and knowing where Gov. Inslee stands on COVID-19 restrictions, Samuelson says he wanted to be able to wait and see what happens in the coming months, but adds that he’s not afraid to “tackle them again.”

“Most of my employees now are drawing unemployment, I think, or they’ve got other jobs, and so I’m not so concerned about them anymore,” he said. “But I am concerned about our future as a nation, the state and the nation, and maybe beyond.”

For now, Spiffy’s will take a PPP loan, Samuelson said, which will cover the restaurant until May. When Spiffy’s does open again, Dori will be one of the first to know.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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