Officials tried to warn the owner of The Tuck Box, Carmel’s historic English tea room and restaurant, three times that he was violating Monterey County’s shelter-in-place order by offering table service instead of takeaway service only.
Jeffrey LeTowt was contacted by the Carmel Police Department, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, officials say, and each tried to tell him that if he continued serving up omelettes and the restaurant’s well-known Scottish griddle scones he could face criminal charges.
District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni announced on Thursday, May 14, that her office is filing the criminal charges they warned him about, three misdemeanor counts of violating the shelter-in-place order, each of which comes with the possibility of a $1,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment. LeTowt’s arraignment is scheduled for July 13.
In addition to serving customers at tables inside the restaurant, LeTowt failed to wear a face covering while diners were there, according to a press release from the DA's Office. He was also observed failing to implement social distancing protocols, including maintaining six feet of space between people who are not part of the same household.
The Weekly made several attempts were made to contact Le Towt at the restaurant. There was no answer Thursday at the quaint cottage, which was built in 1927 and has been a favorite subject of both painters and photographers over the decades.
When the initial shelter-in-place order was announced by Health Officer Edward Moreno on March 17, law enforcement officials said they would focus mainly on education instead of enforcement.
"There are teeth in the health officer’s order, it’s a misdemeanor to violate it," Undersheriff John Mineau told reporters in a press call on April 1. "Our goal is to do [enforcement] as much as we can through education.”
Most people have been complying once they’ve been contacted by law enforcement, but there have been exceptions, like an arrest of four young people by Monterey Police officers after being told repeatedly they couldn’t party together.
In the case of LeTowt, the DA’s Office received several complaints from members of the public, as well as a referral from Carmel Police, according to Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok. DA investigators issued a warning, accompanied by an ABC agent.
“Our community is facing an unprecedented public health threat. I want to commend all the individuals and businesses who are sacrificing so much to protect our community from this disease,” Pacioni said in a statement. “While so many are doing their part, we cannot allow a business to defy these emergency public health orders and risk the progress that our community has made.”
Before the DA announced the citations against LeTowt on Thursday, a Pacific Grove woman made a public post on Facebook earlier in the day, inviting anyone who was willing to come have a sit-down brunch at The Tuck Box this coming Sunday.
“I finally found a restauranteur willing to defy an amoral, despicable new rule that has nothing to do with trying to keeping us safe, and everything to do with trying to make every small business in America go under,” she wrote. “I spoke with Jeff [LeTowt] and he said he would love the support.”