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Defiant Restaurant Owner Hires Top Attorney to Challenge Closure Orders



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Dave Fansler says he’s called the dining space at his Pismo’s Coastal Grill restaurant a patio for well over a decade now. The Fresno County Health Department says it falls under the definition of indoor dining, which is prohibited under the state’s COVID-19 emergency order.

Fansler has continued to serve customers at his restaurant, which he says has led to to three citations for defying the indoor closure order. Now, he’s hired high powered local attorney Warren Paboojian to represent him in the dispute.

“We agreed twelve years ago that this was going to be an open air restaurant. It’s in the Health Department documents, it’s in the Police Department documents.”Dave Fansler, Owner Pismo’s Coastal Grill

“We really want to resolve this under a basis of common sense that’s good for the community that gives everybody confidence that absolute safety is happening here,” Fansler said.

More Than a Semantic Difference

The indoor/outdoor designation is more than just semantic. It’s at the heart of whether Fansler can keep serving guests at his popular northeast Fresno eatery.

“I want to get the city council to come over here, and sit around here, have lunch and see,” says Fansler. “We agreed twelve years ago that this was going to be an open air restaurant. It’s in the health department documents, it’s in the police department documents.”

To back him up, Fansler has brought in a well-known litigator with a reputation for winning big dollar awards in lawsuits. According to the website for the law firm of Baradat & Paboojian, Inc. , “Mr. Paboojian has obtained over $100,000,000.00 in verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients.”

GV Wire℠ reached out to the Fresno city attorney’s office to ask if any meetings were scheduled between the parties. So far, there has been no response.

Pismo’s Remains Open

In the meantime, Fansler says Pismo’s is staying open for lunch and dinner.

He is also making phone calls to city council members and officials with the county health department to invite them into his restaurant, he says.

“I really want them to see it, because we rarely have all these windows open. When they’re open, you’re in the outside (environment),” said Fansler. “We’ve always said we were a patio. We got a unanimous vote from the health department.”

Fansler posted a project review document from 2008 to social media.

(via Facebook)

Fansler posted a long message on his Facebook page last week saying his restaurant can be made safe by opening its windows and turning it into a patio.

Fresno County Health Officer Weighs In

During a media briefing on July 6, the county’s interim health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, responded to Fansler’s statements.

“We’re asking for clarification. But as it stands now, the open windows would not be enough to consider that outdoor dining. I know that that’s a somewhat controversial statement. But as it stands, it’s still considered indoor dining with open windows. And, as the mandate from the state requires, that would not be permitted,” Vohra said.

“But as it stands now, the open windows would not be enough to consider that outdoor dining. I know that that’s a somewhat controversial statement.”Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County interim Health Officer

Fansler says he’s received three citations for operating an indoor restaurant since the state’s order went into effect July 1. The California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control confirmed two of those citations in an email to GV Wire℠.

Powerful Air Flow System

Fansler says the air system he installed twelve years ago cost $100,000. Customers seated next to any of the windows feel something akin to a stiff breeze.

Pismo’s owner Dave Fansler sits on the windowsill demonstrating the air blowing his shirt from his ventilation system. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

In addition, Fansler says he spent a considerable amount of money installing an evaporation system to work in tandem with the air conditioning. He’s hopeful the health department will recognize his $250,000 investment helps to keep customers safe.

Large pipes in the ceiling help ventilate and circulate the air inside Pismo’s. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

“They’re just not used to having a patio this nice. This is sort of like a five million dollar tent is what this is,” Fansler said.

On Pismo’s social media pages, Fansler has posted a video he’s narrated that describes the operation of the restaurant’s air flow system.

(Courtesy of Pismo’s Coastal Grill)

Middle Ground

Fansler believes there’s room for an amicable solution. He’ll let the decision makers come to the solution, he says, but believes the tables nearest the windows are an ideal setting to eat a meal.

“Maybe open up the first two rows around the perimeter. Whatever makes sense,” says Fansler. “There’s certainly some middle ground in here I think for us to get it resolved quickly.”

Pismo’s customers seated near the windows and separated by partitions. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

He says if the tables nearest the windows were approved for use, that equates to about 30% of the restaurant’s total seating capacity.

The Fresno County Health Department says Pismo’s is still considered an indoor dining location despite the dining area’s large open windows and powerful air flow system. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)