Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that he was lifting the mask mandate. A week later, businesses of all types were allowed to open to 100% capacity. On top of that, people who decide to not wear masks can’t be punished by law, Abbott’s mandate says.
Businesses in Texas have now become a battleground of sorts for wearing masks. There’s nothing — legally — telling people that they have to wear a mask inside. Private business, however, are still allowed to require masks at their discretion.
For business owners like LaCombe, who just want to keep their employees and customers safe, they tell CNN they’ve fielded vicious calls from strangers and some have even received death threats.
“It’s tough situation to be in, but we have to stand our ground,” LaCombe said.
One owner says he’s received threats
Mike Nguyen, owner of Noodle Tree restaurant in San Antonio, told CNN he’s mentally, physically and emotionally drained.
He said he’s made 20 harassment and threat reports in the last week. And it’s not just about the mask mandates, either.
Nguyen also told CNN someone called him Thursday, stated his home address and told him they’re coming.
“You could tell the hate in the voice and the anger in it that it wasn’t something like someone just trying to troll or play around. It was real. They meant it,” he said.
His employees have been harassed as well, enduring name-calling and getting cursed at by customers.
Nguyen told CNN he doesn’t believe the governor has done enough, despite Abbott announcing that there’s no place for harassment and vandalism.
“So all this stuff that’s happening, all it’s done for those who disagree with what I said, you’ve proven me right,” Nguyen said. “I said that it would escalate. I said that it would cause confrontation and it all has happened, you know? And it’s gotten to this point.”
Yet, Nguyen says he does not resent the governor for lifting the mask mandate.
“If something happens, the blood’s on his hands,” he said.
‘We’re doing something right’
“Everything’s been just social media and phones and we hope it just stays that way,” he said.
As of Monday, LaCombe says he has not had to charge anyone either surcharge.
“If it becomes a need that someone is adamant about not wearing a face mask, we’ll just exit them out of the restaurant,” he said. “Our main business decision was to let people know that we’re safe.”
That doesn’t stop people from calling, though, to tell LaCombe and his employees they can’t demand mask wearing.
“By law they don’t have to wear a mask. So we are, in context, infringing on their freedom,” LaCombe said. “And I’m sorry, I am not one to go out there and infringe on anyone’s freedom, but your freedom is whether you want to come in here or not. That’s your freedom.”
And his response to people who say they’re chasing customers off?
“Well, those are the customers we do not want in our diner,” he said. “We want the people that believe in safety and they are looking for a safe place to go.”
LaCombe did say that weeks ago, the constant phone calls did upset his wife and made him dread coming to work. Since then, though, he said he looks forward to the phone calls.
“We’ve been open since the pandemic started,” he said. “We have not had a single virus outbreak or reaction to the virus in our diner since we’ve been open and we have employees that haven’t been vaccinated, so we’re doing something right.”
CNN’s Natasha Chen, Ashley Killough, Hollie Silverman, David Williams and Holly Yan contributed to this report.