Surfside Beach restaurant owner says couple cited for not wearing masks were ‘abrasive,’ created ‘uncomfortable atmosphere’

Grand Strand

SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – A restaurant owner is responding to online criticism after Surfside police cited two customers for not wearing masks on Sunday.

Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann says officers were called to Hamburger Joe’s off Kings Highway last weekend and wrote $100 fines for two people refusing to wear masks. Tony Cherney, who’s the owner of Hamburger Joe’s, says that’s not the only reason why an employee made that call.

Like every restaurant in South Carolina, you have to wear a face covering if you want to go inside Hamburger Joe’s.

“They can wear the mask to the table and they can take the mask off,” said Cherney.

On Sunday afternoon, a couple came to the restaurant without masks and Cherney says they refused free ones his employees offer anyone.

“They just proceeded to push past the hostess and seat themselves,” he said. “Once they got seated, they grabbed one of our server’s arms and demanded to be served.”

The server and manager explained why the two had to wear masks. Even though the Town of Surfside Beach doesn’t have a mask mandate, Gov. Henry McMaster’s order requiring masks in all restaurants must be enforced.

Restaurants can be punished if employees and customers don’t have face coverings.

“We can lose our liquor license or we can lose DHEC’s “A” rating that we have, which is very important in the restaurant industry,” Cherney said.

Cherney says the couple was also swearing, making other customers uncomfortable, and his manager had to make the call.

“At that point, she just felt she needed to call the police and it had nothing to do with the mask,” he said. “It had everything to do with an abrasive, uncomfortable atmosphere being presented by somebody.”

Officers tried telling them about the rule too.

“They wouldn’t even listen to the police officers explain it, so the police officers escorted them outside and we didn’t know until yesterday when we saw it in the newspaper that they were actually fined for not wearing masks,” Cherney said.

Cherney says he wanted to explain what happened after Facebook backlash from people against masks, so the incident doesn’t hurt his more than 40 employees.

“We can’t afford not to be open over a mask issue,” he said.

Chief Hofmann also says officers have educated restaurants around Surfside about the governor’s new rules and owners are encouraged to call police if customers refuse to wear masks.

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