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Seattle Chef Defends Vaccination Policy For Workers And Dine-In Guests

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

No vax, no service. That's what some bars and restaurants are saying as the highly contagious delta variant spreads across this country. One of those establishments is ADDO in Seattle, Wash., where you have to be vaccinated to work or eat there. Eric Rivera is ADDO's owner and chef. And he joins us now. Welcome.

ERIC RIVERA: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hello. Why'd you make that decision?

RIVERA: Because that's the only decision to make right now. I think if there's a tool presented and offered, we use it. So I made the decision back in May to reopen and with the caveat and restrictions and rules being that everybody entering the space or being part of what's happening inside of the restaurant - mandatory vaccines.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how was that sort of greeted initially by your staff, first of all?

RIVERA: They know how I am.

(LAUGHTER)

RIVERA: They know the requirements that I've kind of run here. And they've also been working in the space for the last year. You know, we shut down for delivery/takeout. I have a newer-ish space. So we were able to kind of distance ourselves within the restaurant and kind of take precautions. We didn't have any COVID cases throughout the entire time. You know, requiring vaccine is just - was just another step.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, how are you implementing this rule? How you sort of certifying the people have been vaccinated?

RIVERA: I have on my website - it kind of goes on a description and explains all the rules. You know, maybe some are within CDC regulations or guidelines. But I feel like I need to be a little bit more intense about it because, at the end of the day, I'm the one paying the bills. I'm the one dealing with the repercussions if somebody does get sick. They read through that on the website. They prepay the reservation. From there, they make the decision if they want to come in or not. I don't have walk-ins at my restaurant. So people can't just, like, come inside and do whatever they want. It truly is just being ticketed. It's very strict.

There's a little bit of time in between where they can send me their vaccination card or copy of it. But I always tell them to bring me physical copies. Fortunately, our state as well has a digital system. And I check them all right at the door just to make sure. If they don't have them, then, you know, it's explicitly told within the description on my site that they're not permitted to enter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, your restaurant is in a highly vaxxed part of the country. But that is not the case everywhere, obviously. This has now become political. What response have you gotten since you've gone public with this?

RIVERA: Yeah. I mean, we also were the first area to have cases. So, you know, we've kind of - I would say, we've kind of been dealing with this a little bit longer than most here in the United States. So I've lost my patience (laughter) for waiting for other people's approaches to kind of go through this. It's really about working with people, making sure that we can use all the tools, resources available to us, listening to the right people, meaning, like, educated people, epidemiologists, doctors (laughter), not just random things on Facebook. So on my side, it's really positioning myself to succeed over a long-term period.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is business?

RIVERA: Busier than ever (laughter). It's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's working for you.

RIVERA: It's definitely working for me. You know, I'm a small restaurant. So maybe bigger names or bigger chefs won't see or get excited about the numbers I'm doing. But I'm sold out. My tickets are sold out almost all the way through October. So I have guests that come in. And they're happy. I have guests that leave. They're happy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I guess what I'm hearing from you is that your stance has actually maybe been a selling point because people can come to your restaurant and at least know that they are surrounded by other people who are protected and vaccinated.

RIVERA: Absolutely. And I've had a lot of people who are in health care that are pretty impressed about what is happening here. And I have people that are rebooking over and over just to be here. You know, the food's pretty decent. So that's a plus.

(LAUGHTER)

RIVERA: You know, so it gives them an option. And I like that. I wish there was more places that kind of went into it and realized it because I feel like that's going to be what it is moving forward unless they want to close again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I suppose the goal is what exactly in your view?

RIVERA: I mean, my goal is to not kill people, not to get them sick. It's pretty straightforward. I haven't had any cases in my space with any of my employees or people that have reported back to me since we've done indoor dining. I intend to keep it that way. If I have to get more strict with regulations, that's awesome. I don't want to be somebody's last meal. Whatever I'm doing food-wise and restaurant-wise isn't worth that. So I definitely don't want to have that happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eric Rivera is chef and owner at ADDO in Seattle. Thank you very much.

RIVERA: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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