FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — A Fredericksburg restaurant that has repeatedly made headlines for defying Virginia's COVID mandates during the height of the pandemic and battling to maintain its licenses was subject to a search and seizure by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) Friday morning.
A search warrant was issued for Gourmeltz's sales records and any information related to "possession of alcoholic beverages without a license, maintaining a common nuisance and the illegal sale of alcoholic beverages."
Gourmeltz owner Matt Strickland had his license to sell wine/beer/mixed beverages on and off-premises suspended in September 2021, but ABC put a stay on enforcing the order to give Strickland time to appeal. In November 2022, a final ruling was issued and ABC ordered Gourmeltz to halt selling alcohol for 90 days. The agency said it would reduce the suspension to 15 days if Strickland paid a $4,000 penalty and more than $6,400 in investigation costs.
But Gourmeltz did not comply.
"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, the establishment failed to comply with ABC’s Board Order and continued to serve beer, wine and mixed beverages to customers," ABC wrote in a press release.
According to ABC, here is the timeline of their involvement with Gourmeltz:
- Jan. 28, 2021: Virginia Department of Health’s Rappahannock Area Health District summarily suspends Gourmeltz’s health permit for not following the COVID-19 public health requirements in the governor’s Executive Order.
- March 4 and March 18, 2021: Virtual informal conference and formal ABC hearing. ABC finds that Gourmeltz willfully and knowingly ignored the Code of Virginia § 4.1-225 2.a. (requires licensees to conform to local health requirements) and revokes their license on March 31, 2021. Action on the license is stayed pending Gourmeltz appealing the decision of the administrative law judge to ABC’s Board of Directors.
- Aug. 20, 2021: Appeal hearing by ABC’s Board of Directors
- Sept. 1, 2021: ABC issues a final decision and order modifying the hearing officer’s decision from a revocation to a suspension of Gourmeltz’s wine/beer on and off-premises and mixed beverage licenses. ABC grants a stay on the Board Order to allow Gourmeltz the opportunity to appeal to circuit court.
- Aug. 4, 2022: Circuit Court of Spotsylvania County hearing
- Oct. 26, 2022: The trial judge issues a letter of opinion affirming the ABC Board Order in all respects.
- Nov. 10, 2022: Circuit Court of Spotsylvania County issues a final Order affirming the Board Order in all respects.
- Nov. 15, 2022: ABC serves the Board Order suspending Gourmeltz’s beer and wine license and the mixed beverage license for a period of 90 days. The suspension would be reduced to 15 days upon the payment of a $4,000 penalty and $6,469.18 in investigation costs.
Gourmeltz initially lost its health permit in February 2021 for not requiring employees to wear masks. In March, the Virginia Attorney General's office sued Strickland in an attempt to close the restaurant for not following health guidelines on social distancing and masks and operating without a license.
Strickland said he found those mask and distancing orders unconstitutional. A judge ruled in favor of Gourmeltz in the case, but he still faced an appeal hearing with ABC’s Board of Directors.
Strickland went live on his personal Facebook page Friday for nearly 15 minutes during the execution of the search and seizure, confronting the officers conducting the search. The video was also shared on the restaurant's business account. When the officers explained that they were searching for evidence that he was selling alcohol without a license, he said, "I'm telling you to your face, right now, I'm selling alcohol."
"You guys felt the need to bring all these police officers here just to do that this morning?" Strickland can be heard asking the officers shown on video. "How do you feel about coming to shut a man's business down for not following COVID mandates that are not constitutional?"
After the officers explained the court order they were following and said they were just doing their jobs, Strickland continued to press the officers on their personal feelings about the situation and likened their actions to those who followed Hitler's orders in Nazi Germany.
"Just doing my job is not an excuse anymore," Strickland said. "You're shutting down a man's livelihood for not following COVID mandates that didn't do anything to prevent COVID."
Strickland is currently a candidate for the Virginia state Senate in District 27. He's running on a platform that includes mitigating government involvement, returning power to the people, increasing border security, protecting the Second Amendment and restricting access to abortion.
"I'm going to stop the destruction of our state and our country," Strickland says in a campaign video on his personal Facebook. "And I'm going to hold those responsible accountable."
Strickland's story struck a chord in conservative circles. District 63 Del. Phillip Scott (R) says he is introducing legislation to require the ABC to automatically reinstate any license they revoked if the Department of Health also revoked and reinstated that license.
"Many are aware of what is happening with Gourmeltz," Scott wrote on Facebook. "I have this bill getting drafted. While it may not help with this situation, it will help protect others in the future. Once the language of the bill is finalized, I will be filing."
State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) was also at the restaurant Friday, calling for ABC to dismiss their case and reinstate all licenses.
"Why are we still punishing businesses who chose not to comply with unconstitutional mandates issued by the prior administration?" the politician wrote on Facebook. "This case should be dismissed along with every other business that chose not to follow unconstitutional Covid mandates. Virginia businesses need relief."
Supporters of Strickland also flooded into his business Friday night. His friend and Virginia State Senate candidate Lance Allen drove two hours from Winchester to eat at his business.
“It’s a hill worth dying on because when it’s your neighbor, your friend, your mom, your dad, and their business, then it’s too late," Allen said.
Stickland said he would like the support of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in this situation. Neither Youngkin nor Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares' offices responded to WUSA9's request for comment Friday.
“I talked to Governor Youngkin multiple times," Strickland said. "And, I know what he stands for”
Strickland said he has yet to decide whether he will resume selling alcohol immediately at Gourmeltz. He said he lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of alcohol. Still, the restaurant owner said he plans to keep fighting regardless of what his critics say.
“The COVID mandates violated multiple articles in the Constitution," he said. "And, if they disagree with me, that's fine."
WATCH: Full interview with Matt Strickland