A Virginia restauranteur and military veteran, who attracted national attention for refusing to comply with former Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's COVID orders, had his establishment raided on Friday morning.
Matt Strickland, a Virginia state Senate candidate who runs the popular Fredericksburg restaurant Gourmeltz, filmed his confrontation with the Virginia state troopers, local police officers, and Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Authority (ABC) agents who descended on his establishment, saying, "If you've got children, you're setting them up for failure by not standing up now."
What are the details?
Gourmeltz lost its health permit in February 2021. Strickland was sued by the Virginia Attorney General's Office the following month.
The Center Square reported that Gourmeltz had allowed patrons to sit at the bar during the pandemic without wearing masks or social distancing in defiance of Northam's orders.
A judge denied the state's request for an injunction to immediately close Strickland's restaurant.
The Attorney General's Office ultimately dropped all charges against Strickland, and the Department of Health reinstituted his license, reported WUSA.
This victory was partial, however.
Strickland's license to sell alcoholic beverages, suspended in September 2021, remained a sticking point for the ABC.
Townhall reported that while Northam has been out of office for ten months, the board members he appointed to the ABC board, including board chair Maria J.K. Everett and board CEO Travis Hill, are apparently keen to continue doing his bidding — in this case, hobbling Strickland's business.
While the ABC put a stay on the enforcement of the order, giving Strickland an opportunity to appeal, in November 2022, the Circuit Court of Spotsylvania County reportedly ruled in favor of the ABC and against Gourmeltz.
Following the court's ruling, the ABC ordered Gourmeltz to stop serving alcohol for 90 days effective Nov. 15.
The ABC offered to reduce the suspension to 15 days and a $4,000 penalty plus investigative costs, but Strickland was not interested in capitulating. After all, the restauranteur figured that having won back his health department license in court, the ABC should have restored his liquor license as well.
According to a statement issued on Friday by the ABC, "The establishment failed to comply with ABC’s Board Order and continued to serve beer, wine and mixed beverages to customers" despite "administrative proceedings and the final order of the Circuit Court of Spotsylvania County affirming Virginia ABC’s decision to suspend Gourmeltz’s wine/beer on and off premises and mixed beverage licenses."
WUSA reported that ABC agents accompanied by members of law enforcement stormed Gourmeltz on Friday morning, executing a search warrant issued for the business' sales records and for information pertaining to "possession of alcoholic beverages without a license, maintaining a common nuisance and the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages."
Strickland recorded a portion of the raid, in which he can be heard asking officers, "How do you feel about coming to shut a man's business down for not following COVID mandates that are not constitutional?"
At one point in the video, after one officer explained that ABC agents were looking into whether Gourmeltz was selling liquor without a license, Strickland, "I'm telling you to your face, right now, I'm selling alcohol."
When some of those on the scene suggested they were just doing their jobs, Strickland suggested that excuse had been worn out in Hitler's Nazi Germany and was no longer viable.
Strickland said, "You're shutting down a man's livelihood for not following COVID mandates that didn't do anything to prevent COVID."
"It set our kids back so many years, these mandates. It set small businesses back so many years. It destroyed small businesses. It destroyed 'em. It destroyed families. It destroyed our community. And it destroyed our country," he added.
The Free Lance-Star indicated that while it is presently unclear what sort of punishment Strickland could face, selling alcohol without a license can carry a penalty of up to one year in jail.
Not backing down
Last year, Strickland said, "I'm not afraid of the state, I'm not afraid of the federal government. ... I spent most of my adult life fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have no problem coming home and fighting here in Virginia."
Strickland uploaded a video to Twitter on Monday indicating that he is staying the course, having realized early on "that these COVID mandates were more about control than they were health and safety."
The restauranteur told reporters over the weekend that the allure of his establishment is that when patrons come in, "they're stepping back into what the United States of America used to be: free. They're stepping into freedom."
Strickland is running against Delegate Tara Durant (R-Fredericksburg) for the area's 27th District state Senate seat.
The veteran supports: mitigating government overreach; improving border security; combatting "Defund the Police" rhetoric; ending the scourge of critical race theory and buttressing parental rights; upholding the Second Amendment "at all costs"; and lowering taxes.
Virginia State Senate candidate Matt Strickland's restaurant raided by police during ABC search andyoutu.be