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SNOB reverses course, closes after third restaurant worker tests positive for coronavirus

SNOB

Slightly North of Broad has become an institution in Charleston’s restaurant scene since opening in the early 1990s. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Just one week after vowing not to adjust business hours in the wake of an employee testing positive for the coronavirus, SNOB restaurant on Sunday morning announced it is shutting its doors indefinitely following a third employee's positive results.

“We have been working with DHEC and following the CDC’s guidance on cleaning, sanitizing and social distancing,” Hall Management Group Director of Operations Jim Wahlstrom said in a statement announcing the temporary closure. “Along with deep cleaning our restaurant again, we will test every SNOB employee before reopening.”

The Post and Courier on June 6 obtained an internal document informing SNOB workers that a colleague had tested positive for the potentially lethal virus; the memo was shared by recipients who were concerned that the company wasn’t arranging for widespread testing.

Hall Management Group at the time confirmed the case, issuing a statement which said, “Our restaurant has been deep cleaned and we will be open for business (tonight.)”

Under state and federal law, restaurants are not required to close when an employee tested positive for COVID-19, nor are they obliged to notify employees or guests of the situation. Still, several Charleston area restaurants have chosen to alert their communities in hopes of stemming the pandemic, which is surging in South Carolina.

Among the local restaurants which have temporarily closed since SNOB opted to press ahead with service are Cru Café, Purlieu, Melfi’s, O-Ku, Fleet Landing and Indaco.

As restaurant owners and workers have noted, venues which have conformed to guidelines provided by the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, which the state has held up as the gold standard, have not been able to fend off employee cases.

Because restaurant owners can’t control the behavior of workers outside of their restaurants, or the behavior of patrons within them, they say social distancing suggestions, masks and constant disinfecting doesn’t guarantee they won’t have to deal with an employee testing positive.

Additionally, the nature of restaurant work means coworkers perpetually come into closer contact than employees at other retail outlets.

As one of the employees who last week shared concerns with The Post and Courier said, “They’re trying with gloves and masks, but we’re at lineup at the chef’s counter and we’re literally right next to each other.” While the pre-shift meeting covering menu additions, important guests and special occasions varies in length, the employee estimated it lasts an average of 30 minutes.

Other opportunities for employees to stand inches apart include the host stand, where two people are always assigned to work during dinner; the grill, which is staffed by multiple cooks; and staff meal, eaten unmasked by workers sitting side-by-side.

SNOB, or Slightly North of Broad, is among downtown Charleston's most iconic restaurants, dating back to 1993 when it opened under the auspices of Maverick Southern Kitchens with legendary chef Frank Lee at its helm. The company headed up by Dick Elliott in 2015 sold SNOB and its other properties, including High Cotton and Old Village Post House, to Hall Management Group.

Hall Management Group also operates several locations of Halls Chophouse and Rita's Seaside Grill. It has not yet reported employees testing positive at its other restaurants, but attributed the SNOB closure to a desire "to help limit the spread of the coronavirus."

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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