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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Business

Black Diamond finds path to remain open despite wind damage, state actions

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 15, 2021

Brandon Fenton, owner of the Black Diamond, shown here making drinks on May 18 has complied with state COVID-19 guidelines to avoid a 180-day suspension of his liquor license from the state.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Brandon Fenton, owner of the Black Diamond, shown here making drinks on May 18 has complied with state COVID-19 guidelines to avoid a 180-day suspension of his liquor license from the state. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

The Black Diamond restaurant remains open for business despite recent wind damage and an ongoing battle over state COVID-19 restrictions that reached a boiling point two weeks ago.

Owner Brandon Fenton opened the Spokane Valley restaurant, at 9614 E. Sprague Ave., in December under what state officials later deemed to be violations of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders. At the time, Fenton said he opened so he could help provide some semblance of a holiday season for his employees.

Fenton said his mission succeeded despite prompting an emergency vote by the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board to suspend his liquor license if he did not comply with state restrictions.

“Like we said from the beginning, we opened up because of our employees. We were open for those two weeks” in December, he said. “Everybody was generous and provided generous tips. We were able to give them a bonus to provide for their families and so they could buy presents for their kids.”

During that stretch, the state received more than 70 complaints about the business remaining open. State regulators issued three verbal warnings and two formal citations.

As a result, the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board voted in late December to issue an emergency 180-day liquor license suspension for the Black Diamond in Spokane Valley if Fenton didn’t comply with state guidelines within 24 hours.

Board spokeswoman Julie Graham confirmed late Thursday the Black Diamond followed through with those recommendations.

“The Black Diamond has been in compliance since their suspension with the 24-hour period to come into compliance,” she wrote in an email. “By doing so, they avoided having their license actively suspended.”

Fenton said he has no regrets about opening in December, the move that prompted the liquor board’s vote to suspend his license.

“We accomplished what we set out to do, which was alleviate the stress that Inslee put on our employees for them not being able to work,” he said. “We had multiple people who were denied unemployment benefits.”

The restaurant took another hit on Wednesday when the deadly windstorm, which knocked out power to about 100,000 utility customers in the Spokane area, destroyed the outside enclosure the Black Diamond had been using.

“The tent was just completely ruined,” said Fenton, who was able to reopen Thursday.

Asked if the tent was fixed, Fenton said Friday it was not. “But we are following the new guidelines with the open air” restrictions as part of Inslee’s latest guidelines necessary for restaurants to remain open.

On Jan. 6, Inslee put forth a new plan that took effect Monday. It keeps the entire state in Phase 1 until each region can pass the following metrics:

• To advance to Phase 2, regions must have: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates; a 10% decrease in COVID hospital admission rates; an ICU occupancy rate less than 90%; and a test-positivity rate of less than 10%.

• If a region meets all four criteria, it can move to Phase 2, which would allow gyms and restaurants to open at 25% capacity.

Fenton said he doesn’t agree with Inslee’s metrics. “They don’t make much sense,” he said.

The Association of Washington Businesses last week also criticized the new guidelines in a news release from President Kris Johnson.

“It’s unfortunate this plan doesn’t currently provide a pathway to opening beyond 25% capacity for those businesses impacted or closed, and it fails to spell out a way for businesses to fully reopen,” Johnson wrote on Jan. 6. “We fear this will only make it harder for many communities, employers and families to begin the long process of rebuilding.”

The second round of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Payroll Protection Program, which is just now accepting applications, also increases the amount of funding available for restaurants and hospitality businesses.

Fenton said the grants will help, but he would prefer that Inslee allow restaurants to open using social distancing and other safety measures.

“My employees don’t want to sit at home and get a check from the government,” he said. “I’d rather just be open, and my employees agree.”

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