Don Rogers: The Friar Tuck dilemma |

Don Rogers: The Friar Tuck dilemma

I don’t know Old Town Café, but I’m a fan of Sergio’s and especially Friar Tuck’s, three restaurants in western county facing fines for refusing to close indoor dining.

The owner of Sergio’s served my wife and I himself when we were new in town. Old world manners and a meal rivaling the cuisine of highfalutin’ restaurants in Vail, Colorado, soon cured us of any epicurean snobbery built up over 18 years of living there.

My wife and daughter had a magical evening at Friar Tuck’s while scouting this community as a possible new home. They lucked into a window seat by the bar ahead of a March sunset and made new friends that night. Around then my wife texted me one word: “Yes.”

We’ve dined there since with extended family and popped in just us on the bar side, always an eye out for that favorite window spot.

Acting in a neighborly way — that is, with concern utmost for others — goes a couple of ways.

The music is fine, best if we don’t have to shout. I’m there for the conversation, for friends we bump into and folks we meet, for people watching. Remember that? The food and wine are good, too.

The vibe suits us, I guess, and I like places where the owners are there and might even have a quick moment to say hello. My daughter knows them better, but I’ve always enjoyed talking with son Chad, who bartended there before the purchase, dad Ken and mom Donna.

I define good folks by my conversations with them and listening to Ken’s philosophies about business practices and being there for the community. That’s not going to change just because I think they took a wrong turn this time.

History’s lessons

No one in then-conservative Grass Valley, Nevada City or Truckee knew what a virus was in 1918. But they wore their masks as commonsense precautions and fined scofflaws, viewed widely as fools or too mean to care whether they infected others with their sneezes and coughs.

They did this free of partisan symbolism even without the growing body of evidence we have today for face masks limiting the spread of our vapors and new studies suggesting more protection for the wearer than had been supposed.

The communities then, like today, restricted restaurants and other gathering places during the height of the contagion. And like today, that pandemic only grazed us, killing just 100 people in Nevada County.

I do wish more of us would recognize that American-style liberty has a lot more to do with acting on behalf of greater freedoms for everyone rather than a selfish sort of license to endanger others.

Our chances of a speedier and surer path to economic recovery are much better if we citizens can act on more of a cooperative footing, as during World War II and the Spanish Flu.

But a pastor who complained about churches having to close completely while pool halls enjoyed limited hours during the Spanish Flu was arrested in Grass Valley for taking his mask off. Such a protest does not lack precedent here. Grass Valley had its own sort of Friar Tuck.

Neighborly values

Nevada County has few cases, even now, even with our July surge. We’ve totaled under 300 confirmed cases as I write, only 35 active, with one death early on in Truckee and one person in the hospital now.

If going only by our county, there’s no health reason to close indoor dining. Sweeping statewide orders make little sense for all 40 million of us, from San Diego to Crescent City, the heart of hard-hit Los Angeles to counties like ours, lightly touched.

Lake Tahoe’s packed beaches, along with the various local demonstrations — right as well as left — all look a lot riskier than dinner out. Never mind the Black Lives Matter protests and the “lift the restrictions” rallies before them, the Trump rallies in Tulsa and Mount Rushmore, crowds everywhere.

That’s all fine, but we’re frantic over a couple of local restaurants?

Of course, whole states like Florida, Texas and Arizona thought much the same before the South burned up to lead the current U.S. surge, largely attributed to opening up too fast in the region least likely to don masks.

The death toll nationwide is headed toward three times the number of a bad flu year and sits now around five times the fatalities of an average flu year. Locally, our low contagion can change very quickly, as it has elsewhere. Alas, this ain’t just the flu.

As one restaurant owner put it to me, we don’t just have here to consider. People come from outside the county lines. The odds of becoming another Austin get a lot higher with a mass of open restaurants and bars right now. Let the pandemic pass. Let’s all do our part. Nearly all the eateries are.

Our restaurants, none more than Friar Tuck’s, are among the best of neighbors, always attentive to the needs of patrons and the community at large. I don’t agree with spanking them with fines until they comply or break.

Nevada City can close, say, North Pine, to traffic like Grass Valley has closed part of Mill Street, at least until the state comes to its senses, the pandemic curve dips again, the rains come. Hey, it’s something.

Acting in a neighborly way — that is, with concern utmost for others — goes a couple of ways. We can be good neighbors by helping our stressed restaurants get through this, and they can and mostly are by operating within the health guidelines of the moment.

I understand why restaurants might balk at a sweeping order that does little for health concerns here but can cost them their business. Still, I was glad to see Friar Tuck’s this week choose the greater needs of community and, I hope, work out how to get through this in practical, businesslike ways.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.

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