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The New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association is fed up.

In a mass email to its members, restaurant employees and diners, the NJRHA asked all to inundate Gov. Phil Murphy with calls demanding that he allow outdoor dining now. The association also asked that people send tweets to and direct social media messages to the governor, as well as sign a petition. 

The NJRHA has scheduled a press conference Friday at Woody's in Red Bank to demand the governor open outside dining now.

"He won't give the green light to outdoor dining, which is crazy, crazy, crazy," said Craig Kunisch, immediate past chairman of the NJRHA and owner of the Mahwah Bar & Grill and Allendale Bar & Grill. "There is no reason not to have outdoor dining. It's just a little step forward. Activity breeds activity." 

Kunisch noted that one restaurant owner in a recent association Zoom call reported that he received four cancellations for December holiday parties. "If diners saw some movement, some opening, he wouldn't have gotten such a call," Kunisch said. "This is just crazy. It's time to take a step forward. In fact it's past time."

Bob Wagner, head of Ott's Restaurant Group, agrees. 

"We’ve been asking the governor for nine weeks – 70-some days -- to do something," said Wagner, a board member of the association. "We’ve given guidelines, we've shown opening plans, we’ve done everything. It’s time to open up. We can't wait any longer. Thirty percent of my competition is not going to reopen already. That's sad to say. A lot of people are not coming back from this. We’re broke."

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Wagner, who owns Ott's Restaurant in Medford, Berlin and Sewell and Braddock's Tavern in Medford, noted that Pennsylvania and Connecticut are beginning to allow outdoor dining. He reports that Philadelphia restaurants will be permitted to serve diners outside beginning on June 5.

"We have already lost Easter, Mother's Day, communions, graduation parties. Now we're going to lose Father's Day, too," he said. "I employ more than 200 people – 90 percent are unemployed. They want to work. This is just nuts."

He also noted that South Jersey did not have anywhere near the number of cases of COVID-19 cases as North Jersey, so perhaps the governor should consider allowing restaurants in the south to open first. "He is set on opening up as a whole state. Why?"

When asked about this, Alyana Alfaro Post, the governor's press secretary, referred to the governor's recent press release "on our Road Back Plan," saying: “Our multi-stage approach uses science, data and facts to determine which businesses and activities can reopen according to their risk level and challenges they face to safeguard public health.

"Additionally, we will be guided by our ability to protect against a new COVID-19 outbreak with expanded testing and contact tracing, and clear social distancing safeguards in place. We are currently in Stage 1, and we will aim to move through each stage quickly, but also judiciously, with the public health of our communities and all New Jerseyans in mind."

Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.

Email: davidowitz@northjersey.com Twitter: @estherdavido 

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