On May 15, as patrons at his restaurant were enjoying a sunny day and food and drink in Carmel, The Tuck Box owner Jeff LeTowt was having what looked and sounded like a friendly conversation with a couple of officials from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control about how he was supposed to be shut down for in-restaurant dining and was probably jeopardizing his liquor license by not complying with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order and county Health Officer Edward Moreno’s shelter-in-place order.
The conversation appeared to end amicably enough, with one gloveless officer shaking LeTowt’s similarly gloveless hand before they departed. (Is that the new symbol of the resistance? Handshakes sans gloves?)
LeTowt made news by throwing caution to the wind and reopening for in-restaurant dining, shelter-in-place order be damned. He’d lost $60,000 in income during the shutdown, he told TV media, and couldn’t afford to lose any more. By May 14, after the District Attorney’s Office, Carmel Police and the ABC had already issued warnings, the DA filed three citations against LeTowt, all misdemeanor charges, for providing table service to patrons, for failing to wear a mask or face covering while patrons were present and for failing to implement social distancing protocols such as maintaining six feet of space between people.
His stance: If they want to shut me down, they’ll have to arrest me.
And as the ABC officials came calling and various media descended to take pictures and video of the scene – complete with a packed patio, no masks, one woman drinking wine straight out of a bottle and nobody in a position of authority to shut LeTowt down actually moving to shut him down – a man named George Casas was in Salinas, firing up a smoker and getting ready to smoke almost 400 pounds of pork shoulder.
Casas, owner of Casas de Humo BBQ Catering Co., has also lost money during the shutdown. Bread and butter for the 2-year-old company is private events, and those aren’t happening.
May 16 was also Casas’ birthday. He didn’t want to receive any gifts, but his wife was insistent: What, she asked more than once, did he want to do for his birthday?
That’s where the 400 pounds of pork comes in.
“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a barbecue for people, a community get-together for everything the community has given to us?’” Casas says.
His friends at XL Public House offered financial support and to provide a staging area. Frank’s Auto Sales, Jurassic Pets and Alisal Distributors threw down money, and DJ Liquid Abyss threw down time and talent.
And on May 15, Casas fired up the smoker. Those 400 pounds of pork became more than 700 pulled pork sandwiches. Of those, 250 were bagged up, along with a bag of chips and a bottle of water, and given to fieldworkers; Casas had arranged the donation through a local labor contractor.
Casas bagged up the remaining sandwiches (with chips) and handed them out, for free, to anyone who drove or walked up to XL. Barely an hour after he started, all of the food was gone. Everyone who was handing out food was gloved and masked the whole time.
Casas is throwing a pop-up on May 23, along with The Bakery Station. He’ll sell sandwiches and boxes (with, for example, ribs and sausage or tri-tip and sausage, along with sides) for $14-$24. The Bakery Station will sell sweets. (Pre-orders only, find Casas de Humo on Facebook for details.)
In Carmel, a defiant LeTowt keeps serving. ABC spokesperson John Carr states by email: “For any licensee who has continued to operate despite the department’s efforts to persuade them to voluntarily comply, the department will pursue administrative action against the licensed premises, which may result in penalties, including the possible suspension or revocation of the license.”
LeTowt is due to be arraigned on July 14. Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok says her office is assessing further action to ensure LeTowt’s compliance.
Maybe compliance can look like this: He closes the dining room, sells food to-go while wearing a mask, and can still make some money without endangering anyone. Like other restaurants have figured out.