On October 16 a special Board of Selectmen’s meeting was held in Mattapoisett. The continued hearing concluded that Nick’s Pizza should be sanctioned for not adhering to Governor Baker’s emergency orders for the wearing of facemasks by staff working in the popular restaurant.
After discussion and hearing from the business’s representative, the board agreed that both common victualer and malt and wine licenses would be suspended. No food may be served on October 25 and 26, a two-day suspension, and no beer or wine may be served between October 25 and October 31, a seven-day suspension.
The continued hearing took a far different tone than the communication that precipitated the special meeting.
After swearing in the representatives of the business, Daphne and Kosta Vrakas and Board of Health Agent Kayla Davis by the town’s counselor, Brian Riley of KP Law, Selectman Paul Silva read the charges. Silva stated that between May 26 and September 30, anonymous as well as verifiable complaints were received stating that masks were not being worn by restaurant staff.
Davis stated that, when she visited the establishment, complaints had been received and continued to be received after her inspection; she did not witness staff without masks. She said that during her visits and when speaking to Thanasi Vrakas (not present during the hearings), “things didn’t go well.” At the October 13 meeting of the Board of Selectmen when the hearing was first opened, Davis had testified that Vrakas had said he would not comply with “fake masks rules.” She said that management expressed their opinions about the wearing of masks.
On June 20 a letter was hand-delivered to the restaurant management to alert them that mask compliance was being breached. That letter was delivered by Christine Richards, who works in the Selectmen’s office. A second hand-delivered letter reached Nick’s Pizza management on October 14 after an earlier missive via certified mail advising the business of the hearing was not collected by the business at its post office box.
Kosta and Daphne Vrakas were asked by Silva if they wished to make a statement. Thanasi’s younger brother Kosta was quick to respond.
“I’m half owner,” Kosta Vrakas began. He apologized for his older brother’s reactions to Davis’ site visits, saying, “My older brother is hot-headed, (and) I clash with him every day. None of what he said that day reflects how we do business.” He said when he found out what had transpired, “I was shocked.”
Vrakas said that after the statewide shutdown in March, “We were scared.” He said since reopening, “It’s been non-stop crazy busy,” and again apologized for his brother’s behavior and stated that their stress had been very high.
The selectmen took turns airing their opinions.
Selectman John DeCosta began by asking the question, “What in the future ensures this won’t happen again?” Vrakas said that most rules have been enforced on a daily basis. He said that a couple of employees had respiratory problems, but that at least one of those employees no longer works at the restaurant. “I guess … no mask, no employment,” he offered.
Silva spoke next, saying, “We, the board, were very concerned about getting businesses opened as soon as possible, to help them within the constraints of the governor’s orders. The Board of Health helped … we really wanted to help. However, more importantly was making sure our residents are safe when doing business.” Silva went on to say that Mattapoisett was surrounded by towns now in the “red zone” with high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and that new cases in Mattapoisett had also recently been reported. “Obviously we are very concerned … we want to make sure everyone complies.”
Silva confirmed with counsel that the town did not have the authority to impose fines but that withdrawal of permits to operate the business was an option. The selectmen discussed permit suspensions.
DeCosta stated, “This business has been a positive in the community,” adding that he didn’t want to hurt businesses and yet safety had to be taken into consideration and, “it’s a matter of fairness to other businesses.” He said he had wrestled with what penalties should be imposed.
Selectman Jordan Collyer added his voice. “The rules were violated and documented. I don’t give credit to anonymous complaints but, written complaints, I can go with that. It’s the trend I can’t ignore.” He said he also could not ignore that other businesses were complying and, while Nick’s was “a pivotal business,” the health and welfare of the community is at stake. While he thanked the family members and business owners for their willingness to attend the hearing, he also stated, “there was a blatant disregard for authority, rules were violated.”
Silva said, “We all feel that Nick’s has been good to the community, but there was a pattern, there were violations.” Fairness to other business owners, Silva said, weighed into the board’s decision.
As the board members discussed the length of time Nick’s Pizza would lose its permits, Collyer made his position clear. “If the trend continues, I’d have no problem calling a hearing for any other businesses; anything I move tonight will be consistent with other hearings.”
Davis was directed to visit the business after its reopening and to report her findings to the selectmen.
Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen
By Marilou Newell