Contra Costa County

Pleasant Hill In-N-Out Burger Shut Down for Violating COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

Contra Costa County health officials say the restaurant continued to serve indoor diners without verifying vaccination status even after multiple notices of violations and fines

NBC Universal, Inc. More people were expected Thursday to protest outside the In-N-Out Burger in Pleasant Hill to show their support for the restaurant, which has refused to check the vaccination or negative test status of indoor diners as required by Contra Costa County. Bob Redell reports.

Contra Costa County health officials on Tuesday shut down an In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Pleasant Hill for violating the county's vaccine mandate on indoor dining, according to a county statement.

Contra Costa Environmental Health suspended the commercial food permit of the In-N-Out Burger at 570 Contra Costa Blvd. "for creating a public health hazard by repeatedly violating a county health order intended to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission," the statement said.

Even after the restaurant received repeated notices of violation and had been fined, it continued to serve diners indoors without verifying their vaccination status or a negative test result, the county said.

Governor Gavin Newsom weighed in Wednesday, but sat squarely on the fence in the debate.

Contra Costa County health officials on Tuesday shut down an In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Pleasant Hill for violating the county's vaccine mandate on indoor dining, according to a county statement. Bob Redell reports.

“I encourage everybody to take seriously local health orders, and I encourage everybody to support businesses that support this state,” he said.

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia was quite a bit more direct. 

There is no attempt to single anyone out,” he said. “In fact, it is In-N-Out that wants the special treatment.”

In-N-Out's Chief Legal and Business Officer Arnie Wensinger acknowledged that the Pleasant Hill location was not checking vaccination status and called the situation government overreach, adding: "We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government."

The restaurant was allowed to reopen Wednesday for drive-thru and takeout service only, and other Contra Costa County In-N-Out locations halted indoor dining service after the Pleasant Hill closure.

It is the second Bay Area In-N-Out restaurant to be closed for COVID-19 health violations. On Oct. 14, San Francisco health officials shut down the In-N-Out Burger at Fisherman’s Wharf for violating the city's health order.

In-N-Out is getting a lot of attention after violating local health orders in the Bay Area. First it was San Francisco and now all five of the locations in Contra Costa County have ended indoor dining after refusing to ask customers for proof of vaccinations to eat inside. Thom Jensen reports.

In-N-Out restaurants in Pinole and San Ramon also received notices they were in violation of the COVID-19 health order, and on Monday, the San Ramon location was slapped with a $250 fine, Contra Costa County officials said.

About a dozen people with signs, flags and a bull horn rallied in support of the popular burger restaurant in San Ramon Wednesday night.

“To put these folks who work in these restaurants, to try and make them vaccine police violate my liberties, they just want to come to work,” said protester Ben Ortiz. 

Are the current health orders asking too much of businesses or is In-N-Out just making a political stand? NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Lynn Bowes-Sperry, professor of business management at Cal State East Bay, for her insight.

The Pleasant Hill restaurant received four citations in recent weeks and fines totaling $1,750, all for the same violation, the county said.

In-N-Out may appeal the Pleasant Hill permit suspension and any fines, but the restaurant must remain closed until the hazard is abated, the county said.

Full statement from In-N-Out:

"On Tuesday, October 26, our restaurant at 570 Contra Costa Blvd. in Pleasant Hill, California, was closed by the Contra Costa Health Services Environmental Division. The reason for the closure is that In-N-Out Associates were not actively intervening by demanding COVID-19 vaccine or testing documentation and photo identification from each dine-in Customer before serving them. Rather than acting as enforcement agents, our Associates were allowing our Customers to be responsible for their own compliance with the divisive local regulations.

"As a Company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all Customers who visit us and making all Customers feel welcome. We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government. It is unreasonable, invasive, and unsafe to force our restaurant Associates to segregate Customers into those who may be served and those who may not, whether based on the documentation they carry, or any other reason.

"We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business. This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper, and offensive."