While hundreds of lawmakers gathered maskless on Tuesday for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, businesses in the D.C. area are still suffering from the COVID-19 mandates imposed on them for the past two years. 

The nation’s capital has been operating in a state of emergency since the onset of the pandemic, leaving business owners forced to comply with mandates with no option to question or appeal them. 

“It’s not how our government of the people, for the people, and by the people is supposed to work. It’s un-American,” Eric Flannery, a D.C. restaurant owner, said at a panel discussion hosted by The Heritage Foundation on Wednesday. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.) 

Three D.C. business owners told their stories to moderator Rob Bluey, the executive editor of The Daily Signal, and explained why they chose to fight back against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s orders.

Eric Flannery, Navy Veteran and Co-Founder of The Big Board 

“We’ve always been a place where everybody’s welcome,” Flannery said of his H Street bar, which he has run for the past decade. 

Flannery complied with COVID-19 regulations for nearly two years, but when Bowser announced a vaccine mandate in December 2021, Flannery decided he had had enough. The Big Board hinted on Twitter on Jan. 13 that it would not be requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. 

“The reaction from the city was swift and severe,” Flannery said. “Inside of three weeks, our liquor license, health license, and basic business license were revoked by the city and due to the emergency nature of the orders that were issued, we weren’t allowed the right to appeal.”

Although Bowser’s vaccine mandate is no longer in effect—she dropped it after a month—The Big Board still sits empty, shut down indefinitely by local government agencies. 

Although Flannery said he is hopeful The Big Board will reopen, he acknowledges fighting the orders comes at the risk of losing his business. Flannery said he has already lost his life savings by not complying with the mayor.

“We’re just not going to participate in any state-sponsored discrimination of any kind,” Flannery said. “It’s just immoral.” 


Robert Alt, president and chief executive officer of The Buckeye Institute, is representing Flannery as he defends his business.

“D.C. has operated under a state of emergency for two years,” Alt said. “That’s not an emergency, that’s a full term of Congress.” 

According to Alt, the emergency mandates have exceeded their 90-day limit, and D.C. has evaded congressional oversight of D.C. laws as required by the Home Rule Charter. Washington, D.C., law also prohibits appeals during a state of emergency. 

“This functionally closes courthouse doors during the entirety of the two-year pandemic,” Alt said. “This perpetual use of emergency powers has deprived my client of his constitutional rights, and on that basis, The Buckeye Institute has filed multiple demand letters as well as a motion for reconsideration of D.C. agencies that have revoked Mr. Flannery’s operating on liquor licenses.” 

Noe Landini, Owner of Junction Bakery and Bistro

When Bowser’s vaccine mandate went into effect, Junction in Washington, D.C., put all the required signage up, but added a sign of its own that stated the restaurant would not discriminate against anyone based on age, race, gender, or vaccination status. 

The sign went viral, and the restaurant, which is a tenant of The Heritage Foundation, was immediately subjected to visits and inspections from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

According to Noe Landini, the owner of Junction, Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration inspectors came on the premise of health issues but waited for an employee to break a rule so they could write them up. 

“They didn’t come in to check. The decision was made before they walked in the door of what they were trying to do. They came to punish,” Landini said. 


Landini said he has long been tired of restaurants being “victims of arbitrary selection,” but that most restaurant owners are powerless against the slew of mandates. 

“The District of Columbia controls us by liquor licenses,” he said. “It’s one of the things that they can pretty much revoke and ask questions later, which is interesting because this is a health issue being policed by the alcohol police.” 

In Landini’s view, it’s unfair to expect a 20-year-old barista to confront or turn down a customer who forgot their vaccination card or who chose not to receive a vaccine. 

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that you can go into grocery stores or home improvement retailers and just a slew of other businesses that thrived during COVID and wonder: Why is it that I am not allowed to run my business the same way these other companies are allowed to run their business?”

Martin Avila, Owner of Avila Catering

Martin Avila ran an events and catering company prior to being forced to shut down because large events and gatherings were prohibited in the early months of the pandemic. 

As the months dragged on, Avila said his clients kept pushing events further back or canceling them. 

“So you’re watching your bank just lose the money from the credit card companies. You have no control of what’s coming out of your company,” he said, “and no idea when you can start bringing revenue.” 

Avila has switched from the catering business to the coding business and founded Rightforge, a company that he said aims “to fight back against what we were seeing as information flow that wasn’t truthful and the censoring of facts related to COVID.” 

By creating a platform that allows people to have differing opinions, Avila said he hopes to protect free speech.

“That’s how we fight back,” he said.

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