Owner Upset at County Falsely Reporting Hookah Bar Shut Down for COVID-19 Violations

Photo courtesy of Vibes Hookah Lounge Owner Ahmed Kamel.

A Montgomery County press release incorrectly stated on Monday that Vibes Hookah Lounge in Rockville was shut down over the July 4 weekend for violating COVID-19 regulations. 

The press release said that Vibes was closed because hookah bars are not included in Phase 2 of reopening in Montgomery County. Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Spokesperson Mary Anderson later said that the information was incorrect, and that the lounge was not shut down but mailed a $500 fine for smoking. 

Ahmed Kamel, owner of Vibes, said his business has been open for to-go orders and retail, which means the sale of hookah products to be used outside of the lounge. He added that he has not received a fine. 

Kamel said he felt the county did him an injustice. 

“I honestly felt betrayed by the county that I grew up in and love,” he told MyMCMedia. 

“I have had multiple calls from customers of 4-5 years who could not believe that we were ‘shut down.’ Thankfully they were able to confirm the correct information from me, but many others are probably thinking we were shut down by the county.” 

Hookah bars are not explicitly addressed in the county’s Phase 2 Executive Order, and Kamel said he has been following the guidance for restaurants and bars, like limiting capacity to 50 percent. 

Kamel said he did not want his business to be grouped with those that do not care for COVID-19 guidelines, like The Grille at Flower Hill, which was also referenced in the press release. The Grille, a restaurant in Gaithersburg, has been receiving negative attention on social media after a now-deleted Facebook post from a manager or owner said that employees will not wear face masks

“Let me be very clear… my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille,” the post said. 

“If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen.”

A DHHS environmental health inspector visited The Grille and gave a “verbal reminder” about public health requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, July 2. Complaints about employees not wearing masks were again received over the weekend and on Monday, July 6. The restaurant’s normal operating days are Thursday-Sunday, so it will be visited by the DHHS again on Thursday, July 9 when it reopens. 

“We will always strive to keep our lounge as safe as possible by enforcing masks, social distancing, sanitizing after every customer, and limiting our seating. I find it very upsetting that my business was grouped together with businesses who show no regard for public safety,” Kamel said. 

Anderson said the DHHS will be working with the County Attorney to review any further action. Kamel said he is waiting to hear back from the attorney.

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