Diners were dismissed from a popular Nogales sushi bar last Friday night after a call to police about potential violations of pandemic-related restrictions.
But the restaurant, Oki Roki Sushi, reopened the next day and owner Javier Delgado insisted that the alleged incident was all just a misunderstanding.
“There was confusion,” he said, adding: “We’re not here to break rules or the laws or anything like that. We’re here to give employment and so people who live in Nogales can have a good time.”
Like many local restaurants, Oki Roki has welcomed sit-down customers in recent months after Gov. Doug Ducey allowed eateries to reopen with certain restrictions in place, like spacing out tables and keeping capacity at one-half of an establishment’s regular cap.
Cpl. Oscar Mesta of the Nogales Police Department said Oki Roki is the first restaurant that officers have shut down for violations related to the restrictions. (In July, NPD closed down a pair of gyms that had been operating in spite of state orders for those businesses to stay closed.)
The Sept. 4 incident began at 8:57 p.m., when someone called police about a potential violation of an executive order, and a dispatcher sent officers to check up on social distancing at the location, according to NPD call logs.
Once the police arrived, Delgado asked them not to go inside, but assured them that the restaurant was operating at less than 50 percent capacity, according to NPD officer reports. Additional officers arrived and, ultimately, nine responded to the scene, according to NPD records.
Delgado maintained to the NI that the restaurant was under the required capacity limits that night.
Citing the restaurant’s liquor license, an officer entered the building and estimated that there were 50 patrons and 12 staff members inside, according to the officer report. A few minutes later, the officer returned inside and counted 36 customers, but said that about 10 or more had left before the second count.
Delgado told the NI that the restaurant has a maximum capacity of 99 people, making half-capacity 49 or 50 people.
At first, officers told Delgado he could keep the restaurant open as long as he kept count of people inside and didn’t let any new customers in until others left, according to the reports. But then, “a short time later,” Delgado was told to shut down for the night and reopen the next day in compliance with “proper procedure.”
“A solution was found, but then two minutes later they changed the decision,” Delgado said.
And that’s when the fire marshal showed up. According to the NPD officer reports, the marshal found a handful of fire code violations, including a blocked entrance, which knocked the establishment’s capacity down to 45. An NPD officer went inside and told customers that the restaurant was closed.
Delgado was cited for a pair of misdemeanors stemming from the incident – one for attempting to prevent officers from entering the building and another for violation of an executive order.
But it’s not exactly clear what order he is charged with violating.
The citation simply lists: “Violation of executive order.” The NPD news release states that the initial call was related to executive order 2020-43, but that order didn’t impose restrictions on restaurants. Executive order 2020-43, which came in late June as the state faced a surging number of COVID-19 cases, temporarily closed bars, gyms, water parks and movie theaters.
Restaurants were allowed to reopen with capacity restrictions pursuant to executive order 2020-34, dated May 4.
Mesta told the NI that the violation was related to breaking the capacity limit and not to improperly operating a bar. (The officer who entered the restaurant to count the customers also observed that some tables were strictly drinking, according to the report.)
Delgado declined to say how he would address the charges. But for now, he said, he doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about his restaurant.
“They see us as a business that’s harming the community, and I think it’s not like that,” Delgado said. “I think it’s a restaurant that’s been there for 10 years and has done a lot to give service and fun to the community.”