ORLANDO, Fla. – The owner of Knight’s Pub is speaking out after the bar’s alcohol license was suspended, saying that the state used old photos as evidence that his business wasn’t following coronavirus social distancing guidelines.
The Florida Department of Businesses and Professional Regulation announced Monday night that the license was suspended after 13 employees and 28 patrons tested positive for COVID-19 at the bar near the University of Central Florida.
While bars and pubs are allowed to operate under Florida’s phase two of reopening, they must maintain 50% capacity and have other sanitation protocols in place.
“The Suspended Licensee’s continued operation poses an immediate serious danger to the public health, safety, or welfare due to the dangers associated with COVID-19,” the DBPR wrote in an emergency order.
The order also included two screenshots, labeled exhibit a and exhibit b, taken from Knight’s Pub’s Facebook page that show the bar packed with patrons taking shots and partying.
The dates on the posts were listed as June 5 and June 6 however, those same photos were originally posted online on Aug. 2 and July 19.
Knight’s Pub owner Michael D’Espisito confirmed that the photos were from last summer.
“Those are photos from July 2019. We completely disagree with the statements being made and we are diligently working to prove that the information was incorrect. We also closed June 9th by choice due to the raise in cases in the UCF community and our concerns with safety,” he said.
“In addition, we proactively arranged for our employees to be tested and disclosed our closure to the public. Unfortunately, despite our limited reopening that was encouraged by our political leaders, our establishment is now being used as the scapegoat for all COVID-19 cases in the surrounding Orlando area,” the pub owner elaborated in a statement.
While those photos may be old, Debapi Ghosh, who lives near the bar, took a picture showing dozens of patrons lined up outside the plaza. He said that photo was taken on June 5.
“From 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., all of the people are there and there is definitely no social distance,” Ghosh said.
Even more concerning, he said, is that the crowds gathered outside are not wearing face coverings.
“From the picture you can see there is no masks. Nobody is wearing any masks,” he said.
While Knight’s Pub is the first locally to have its alcohol license suspended, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday in Orlando that he’s instructed the DBPR to crack down on business violations.
DBPR secretary Halsey Beshears said officers from his agency will be visiting bars and restaurants from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and will suspend licenses for businesses that are exceeding capacity limits or not enforcing social distancing.
“We are going to issue warnings to those that are trying to do the best they can but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Like I said, those that are flagrant, we will be suspending their license,” Beshears said.
On Monday, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said that 152 cases have been connected to one unnamed bar near UCF. Leaders in Seminole County have also said that bars near campus could be one of the reasons why there’s been an increase in cases in the Oviedo area.
“Like the rest of the hospitality industry, we have worked tirelessly to ensure our employees and patrons remain safe during these challenging times. Despite significant job and economic losses from a pandemic that we certainly weren’t responsible for, we continue to be good citizens by taking proactive measures to keep our community safe,” D’Esposito said in a statement.
“It is a slippery slope to essentially blame one small business for a majority of the COVID-19 cases in the area; a baseless accusation we take with the utmost seriousness.”
The statewide cumulative total of coronavirus cases sits at 103,503 as of Tuesday. Hospitalization totals are at 13,325 while the death toll is 3,238.