Dori: State seizes payroll money from Skagit County café; owner vows to fight

Feb 3, 2022, 3:14 PM


The remains of a customer's breakfast at a diner in Atlantic City. (File photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(File photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When Bill DeJong went to pay his employees at Billy’s Café in Burlington last month, he suffered a gut punch after opening his bank account.

Nearly $8,700 needed for payroll was gone, DeJong told The Dori Monson Show. It was seized by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) over what the agency says are COVID “safety citations.”

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Over the past few months, DeJong says, L&I slapped him with more than $367,000 in fines over refusing to adhere to Gov. Inslee’s mask mandates. But the café owner objects to what he calls the state’s “crazy rules,” and says dining at his restaurant is “up to Americans and I am not telling them what to do.”

“I want to make sure we’re clear: When [COVID] first happened, I shut down like everybody else,” DeJong said. “I was worried about the safety of my employees, my customers, my family.”

But after months of following rules that DeJong says were “super confusing – ‘wear your mask when you sit down, but then when you get up, but not when you’re eating’” — he said his crew decided that “Americans will decide what’s best for them and their health,” and they dropped the mask mandate.

“I’m totally fine if people don’t want to come in here,” DeJong said. “You have a choice if you want to come into my café, if you want to get something to go, if you want to get it delivered – or if you want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with us.”

That’s when visits from state L&I officers started at the Skagit County business he’s owned since 2014.

“They wanted to ‘educate me’ – those where their words,” DeJong said.

But the daily fines accumulated from $2,000 to now more than $367,000.

Playing devil’s advocate, Dori asked DeJong if it wouldn’t have just been easier to make dine-in guests wear a mask between the door and the table.

“To the veteran who comes in – who sacrificed a lot more than many of us ever had – to tell him what he can or cannot do, or where he cannot sit, or whether he cannot have a cup of coffee? That is not my café, and that’s not America,” DeJong responded.

“I’m not dumb. I know this is a battle,” he said. “It’s against the state, and it’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to be uphill and it’s going to be tough. … We are willing to fight this battle.”

“We’re getting a ton of support from other people in Skagit County, and even across the nation now,” he added. “My job now is to let people know what’s going on and fight the good fight.”

Listen to Dori’s entire interview with Billy’s Café owner Bill DeJong here:

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

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