A New Hampshire restaurant and ice cream shop has decided to close after refusing to require its employees to wear masks.
On Sunday, Roselynn Homemade Ice Cream in Epping, N.H., announced on its Facebook page that it shut down its breakfast and lunch operation and will continue serving ice cream until October 30 or until sold out — at which point it will close for the foreseeable future.
The closure came in response to a complaint that employees at Roselynn weren’t wearing face masks.
“We followed all of the state’s rules and guidelines,” co-owner Dorene Heselton said. “When we had to be takeout only, we were takeout only. When they allowed us to came back at 50 percent, we came back at 50 percent. When they said we could have 100 percent, our tables were already reduced to the number that they had suggested. The only rule we had not complied with was face masks. We’re a very small business. There’s only five employees, and four of us can’t wear masks for health reasons: asthma, anxiety.”
New Hampshire’s reopening guidelines for the food service industry state that “direct customer contact employees shall wear cloth face coverings over their nose and mouth when at work and around others in settings where social distancing may be difficult.” Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear masks in public settings and that “masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”
On October 15, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office called the restaurant and reported that a customer complaint had been filed against Roselynn Homemade Ice Cream due to employees not wearing face masks. Heselton said that owner Joe Bodge was told that if employees suffer from health issues, they need a doctor’s note on file and are required to wear face shields instead — a solution which, Heselton said, isn’t feasible.
“Our dishwasher can’t wear a face mask and be over the dishwasher with steam coming up in his face,” she explained. “We can’t wear a face shield in front of a grill. It’s just not practical.”
Heselton said the Attorney General’s office instructed the establishment to either comply with state regulations by the beginning of the week or risk losing their food license.
“We’re mostly family-operated, so we called a family employee meeting and we discussed what our options were and decided jointly that the best thing for us to do at this point is to stand up for what we believe in,” Heselton said. “We don’t believe that the face masks are all that helpful. …We haven’t been wearing masks and we haven’t had a single positive case related to the restaurant. So we decided that it was in our best interest to shut the place down until the mask mandate goes away.”
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to Boston.com’s request for comment.
Heselton said that the majority of the restaurant’s customers don’t wear masks when they come inside.
“They all totally understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and hope it’s short-term,” she said. “We had some customers in tears on Sunday when we told them that they wouldn’t be able to come in for a while, but absolutely no one said ‘oh my god, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ or ‘the state is right.’ Everyone was completely on board with our decision.”
Heselton’s daughter runs the ice cream counter, and made the decision that she would wear a mask to serve ice cream until October 30 or until the shop runs out of ice cream. The plan is to reopen when the state no longer mandates the use of masks.
“Basically where I stand right now is: This is New Hampshire,” Heselton said. “Our state motto is ‘live free or die,’ and we really feel like our customers should have the choice to come in or not come in not based on what the state says they have to do.”