Friar Tucks is a family owned and operated Irish Pub in Cotati. In business for 29 years, it came to a sudden standstill when the Health Officer of Sonoma County, issued a shelter in place order March 17. It said, “Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food” were exempted, but they could only do “drive-thru, delivery or carry out.” Friar Tucks is doing this.
The order was set to expire on April 7. On March 31 it was extended until May 3. Again, it said “All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household,” were prohibited unless exempted. Restaurants rules didn’t change. This order clarified that it could be enforced by law enforcement and through civil remedies. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. On May 1, it was again extended with no expiration date.
Owned by Cheryl Nixon, with her sons Rudy and Randy, who run the day-to-day operations. They are known and respected in the local community. The Nixons’ fund and sponsor many different school athletic teams, as well as youth sports teams and educational programs. Until now, Rudy said they had an outstanding relationship with the city and authorities. What changed? To stay afloat and remain “relevant” and serve the community, on April 30 they started a “Socially Responsible Drive-In Movie” in their parking lot on Thursday nights.
Rudy Nixon said they were “trying new and unique ways to operate within the rules set forth by the State of California for hospitality businesses.” They wanted to make sure their event was safe by including social spacing and limiting person-to-person contact. An RSVP only event, no walk-ins. You buy tickets online. With just 12 parking spots used, the attendees sit in their vehicles or in front of the vehicle in sanitized chairs while socially distancing. Carhops wear masks and gloves. Food is ordered online or from a disposable paper menu. Bathrooms are available, one person at a time. Hand sanitizer is available. Signs are posted about washing hands. Attendees are given a flashlight to signal attention if they have a service need.
Rudy Nixon said the event doesn’t generate much revenue even though it’s run and staffed by unpaid family and friends. The first week was a success. Week two was sold out. They are now receiving requests and reservations for movies, weeks in advance, as the word spreads. According to Nixon, Police Chief Michael Parish sees it differently. He would not grant permission to hold the event. His interpretation of the order was that the April 30 event was an unlawful public gathering. He put them on notice that if they continued to hold this event, they are subject to a misdemeanor charge. Arrest, fines and jail time are possible consequences.
After attempting to compromise with Parish and conferring with legal counsel and relevant agencies, they decided to stand their ground. They went ahead with the May 7 showing of “Top Gun.” They reached out to all the guests of the event and advised them of the potential that the police would show up and cancel the event. The overwhelming response was they were still coming to support Friar Tucks. And they did! Nobody cancelled.
Megan Cramer, a Cotati resident, told me she “was very disappointed they are trying to shut it down.” She still planned to attend. She said it was something different to do after all these weeks of shelter in place. Ron “OG” Ogden and a half dozen riders from the Good Ole Boys MC, showed up in support. He said, “We’re here in support of small businesses especially Friar Tucks.” He thinks the Cotati PD is overreaching in trying to shut down this event.
Officer Tyler Wardle of the Cotati Police Department did show up and held a conversation with Rudy and his mother. I asked for the PD to contact me with their side of this story. As of this writing, no contact has been made. Wardle returned about 45 minutes before the end of the event. He handed them a copy of the order and advised that if the event were not stopped within an hour they would be cited. Nixon continues to reach out to the city council for resolution of the dispute. He was told because other businesses couldn’t do something creative like this, it wasn’t “fair” to allow this event. Nixon is still planning on an event next week. We will continue to follow this story as it develops.