Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

State Department Of Health Files Complaint Against Noncompliant BBQ Joint

Paul Braun
Firehouse BBQ in Watson, La. August 3, 2020

A Livingston Parish judge has ordered Firehouse BBQ to temporarily close, granting a restraining order requested by the Louisiana Department of Health as part of a lawsuit the department filed against the Watson, Louisiana, restaurant for its repeated failure to comply with state coronavirus restrictions.

Judge Brenda Bledsoe Ricks of the 21st Judicial District Court granted the restraining order. The restaurant must remain closed until a hearing on Aug. 18. State inspectors found the restaurant violation of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide mask mandate and social distancing requirements on multiple occasions.

Owners Eunice and Danielle Bunch have publicly refused to comply with the orders, claiming in a Facebook post that employees had “several medical reactions” after wearing the masks.

According to the petition for temporary restraining order filed by the Department of Health, the Office of Public health learned of the restaurant’s no-mask policy through public complaints. A sanitarian issued warnings over the phone on July 22 and during an in-person inspection July 27.

During that inspection, owner Danielle Bunch expressed “an unwillingness to enforce the mask/face covering requirements,” the petition says.

On July 31, the Office of Public Health served Bunch with an emergency order that threatened the immediate revocation of the restaurant’s unless the Bunch agreed to comply. Bunch again refused, and the state pulled the permit.

The restaurant continued to operate for more than a week without the permit, garnering widespread media attention and drawing support from members of the public opposed to the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

Edwards described the actions of the restaurant “extremely reckless and irresponsible.”

“Louisiana is number one in the nation in the nation for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita, and there is no doubt that this behavior is contributing to the unnecessary spread of this virus,” Edwards said in a statement.

The state has conducted thousands of compliance checks since the state entered Phase 2 of reopening in June. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said the vast majority of businesses comply after a single visit.

To date only five businesses, including Firehouse BBQ, have been sanctioned for repeated violations.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.