Waffle Shop Owner Ammar Ibrahim speaks Monday during a press conference hosted by Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld. Photo by Edward Smith

published on May 11, 2020 - 12:00 PM
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Following a series of fines and a scuffle with police at a Northwest Fresno restaurant, Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld held a press conference Monday morning, outlining a six-point plan for how the City should open up, as well as respond to violators.

Videos circulated on social media Sunday of an encounter between police and patrons of the Waffle Shop at 4025 W. Figarden Dr. Waffle Shop Owner Ammar Ibrahim had announced that he would allow dining-in at his restaurant for Mother’s Day, which is usually the busiest day of the year for restaurants, Ibrahim said.

The City issued a series of fines, beginning with a $1,000 fine for the first day the Waffle Shop was open, followed by a $5,000 fine Sunday. A third violation would result in a $10,000 fine.

Code enforcement personnel called the police when patrons wouldn’t allow them into the store. When an officer arrived, a crowd of people appeared to block the door, and a man was briefly detained by the officer.

“We’re not trying to fight with the City, we’re just trying to survive,” said Ibrahim at the press conference. “We’re essential, just like everyone else.”

Ibrahim said he would announce on social media later Monday if he plans to reopen for dine in again. 

In response, Bredefeld came before news cameras and a crowd of about 75 people at the restaurant, which is in the district of Fresno City Councilmember Mike Karbassi.

“I care about the whole city, not just District 6,” said Bredefeld.

Bredefeld first called on the City of Fresno to end its shelter-in-place order immediately. He mentioned other cities such as Clovis, Coalinga and Parlier in Fresno County that have said they would not prosecute businesses that reopen.

In response, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand issued the following statement:

“The absolute quickest way we can safely restart our local economy is by working together. Calling each other names isn’t going to solve anything. I spend every waking moment of every day working on plans to safely get the people of Fresno back to work. To reach that goal, I am collaborating with every Councilmember except for one, as well as the County, my fellow Big City Mayors, my staff and a large group of community leaders. Today is the first day that eight categories of retailers opened their doors as Authorized Businesses – and all other retailers can do contactless curbside pickup and delivery. I am confident we can accelerate our economic recovery as long as we work together.”

Bredefeld also said that code enforcement and police officers should not visit businesses that violate city orders, but rather send letters.

Visiting businesses in person has been standard procedure for the City of Fresno’s code enforcement team, said Mark Standriff, chief of communications for the City of Fresno. Code Enforcement operates under the direction of Fresno City Council and the City Attorney’s office.

“The goal is to fix, not fine,” said Standriff.

Bredefeld also wanted the removal of the order for citizens to wear masks, as well as the order that businesses should not have more than one customer for every 500 square feet. He said the rules exceed Centers for Disease Control guidelines and are not enforced for big-box retailers.

Ibrahim said he is appealing the fines issued by the City of Fresno. He is in talks with an advisor but would not say who. Waffle Shop patrons reportedly paid Ibrahim’s initial $1,000, and if the fines were repealed, Ibrahim would donate the money received from Fresno citizens to local charities or schools. At the same time, he said he could not weather a $10,000 fine.

Ibrahim said he wants the City of Fresno to open back up for business. On Sunday, he operated within CDC guidelines, he said. Servers wore masks, gloves and capacity was 30% of normal.

“I am concerned over the manner in which this incident was handled as it doesn’t appear to be consistent with our Department’s policy concerning demonstrations or the directions I have given officers via a Chief’s memorandum for handling enforcement of the Emergency Order,” Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall said in a statement on Sunday.

“I’m just trying to survive,” said Ibrahim at a press conference. “People say we put profit over people. We’re not, because we were only operating at 30%.”

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