St. Louis restaurant group requires vaccine for indoor dining


ST. LOUIS – Bengelina Hospitality Group, which owns a group of St. Louis restaurants, including Nixta and Bar Limón, Elaia, Olio, La Patisserie Chouquette, and The Benevolent King announced Wednesday it will only allow vaccinated guests to dine inside their restaurants.

Those who are not vaccinated can dine on their outdoor patios.

“The new rules are very simple, we want to make sure our staff and our guests are least exposed to the delta variant,” said Ben Poremba, the owner of Bengelina.

“This was not an easy decision, I mean we don’t want to be controversial we don’t want to be the subject of criticism, we’re still business owners.” 

The move comes amid rising COVID-19 cases because of the delta variant, and a newly imposed mask mandate in St. Louis City.

Poremba said guests will have to answer if they’ve gotten the shot when making reservations online or when the host/hostess asks.  

“I’m not an enforcing agency, I’m a business. I’m going to trust the honesty and the forthcoming of people. There’s no way for me to enforce this in a real way, but I think people will tell me the truth,” he said.

Poremba said this is not a political decision. He said this move will also help avoid staff quarantines and having to shut down his restaurant, which he says is already short-staffed. 

“We cannot afford another disruption to our business. This has probably been the toughest 18 months in our industry,” Poremba said. 

“It’d be nice if other businesses would follow and adopt the same rule. It takes a village.”

He posted a letter to social media which reads, “At this time Bengelina Hospitality Group is only accepting indoor reservations for vaccinated individuals. If you are not vaccinated please do not make an indoor reservations.

“Outdoor dining is still available for unvaccinated guests. If you’re not feeling well, please do not come to our restaurants. Masks are required on arrival and anytime you are not seated. Also at this time, all of Bengelina restaurants and affiliated businesses are mandating proof of vaccination as a condition of employment.

“The health and safety of our team members and their family, as well as of our guests and their family is of utmost importance. Given the events of the last 18 months, our businesses can not afford the threat of unvaccinated individuals are exposing our staff and guests to unnecessary health risks.”

Attorney Jay Kanzler with Witzel, Kanzler & Dimmitt, LLC read the letter posted from Poremba and said he believes this is a legal move.

“These are private businesses and they get to operate their businesses the way they want,” Kanzler said.

He said this may only go to the courts if someone sues, claiming they can’t get the vaccine for religious reasons. However, Kanzler said he believes the courts would rule on the restaurant’s side because their goal was to protect staff, guests and not discriminate based on religion.

The Bengelina Group also required vaccines for employees. Poremba said none of his staff at any of the restaurants were resistant.

He said he brought in health experts to dispel myths about the vaccine and educate employees on the COVID-19 vaccine.

He said he also made sure any non-English speaking staff was informed in their first language. 

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