California cafe owner charges customers $5 fee for wearing masks

Diners are mostly free to speak their mind at a Northern California cafe, but doing so through the protective confines of a mask will cost a cover charge of $5.

Fiddleheads Cafe in Mendocino on Sunday put up a sign announcing the fee for customers who wear masks while ordering. In March, the cafe announced an ongoing 50 percent discount for those who throw their face coverings in the trash, said owner Chris Castleman, 34.

"I don't think $5 to charity is too much to ask from mask wearing customers who claim to care so much about the community they live in," he said by email.

Proceeds will go to Project Sanctuary, a local domestic abuse organization, for two weeks before a new nonprofit enters the rotation, Castleman said. (Project Sanctuary did not immediately respond to a request for comment).

"It's about time that the proponents of these ineffective government measures start paying for the collateral damage they have collectively caused," the owner said.

The restaurant also planned to charge an additional $5 fee to those "caught bragging" about being vaccinated, according to a couple of the posted signs.

But Castleman said in a phone interview, "I don't force anyone to pay. I give them the freedom of choice, which seems to be a foreign concept in these parts of the country."

In June 2020, Castleman temporarily closed the cafe 200 miles northwest of Sacramento after Mendocino County officials warned that masks weren't optional at restaurants during the pandemic.

"The government shut everything down," he said Friday. "Everyone wearing a mask is complicit."

He abided by temporary mandates requiring curbside service only, but requiring masks for servers and other workers, he argued, is too much.

"I don't believe in mask-wearing," Castleman said. "Our customer base has been strongly aligned with our beliefs, but I think some are really angry at our cafe."

"It's their choice," he continued. "They can choose what business they support. They can go to any other business in my county, state."

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