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Episode 12: You Say You Want a Revolution

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Bill Dillon has been running his Beatles-themed Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant near the Virginia Beach oceanfront for nearly 40 years. A longtime advocate for the restaurant industry, Dillon is suing Gov. Ralph Northam because he believes that the government does not have the authority to shut down businesses during a state of emergency.



Brady and Alvin with Bill Dilllon (center) at Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant.


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Episode Transcript

July 25


Brady Viccellio

Hey everyone, welcome to The Check. I'm Brady Viccellio, owner of Steinhilber's restaurant and La Bella Italia on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach.

Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin Williams, owner of Cobalt Grille restaurant in Hilltop, Virginia Beach. Welcome to The Check, the podcast about restaurants and people who work in restaurants, who own restaurants, and people who like to dine in restaurants.

Brady Viccellio

We'd like to welcome Bill Dillon to the podcast this week. Bill is the owner of Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant on 22nd Street near the Virginia Beach oceanfront, an establishment he's run for the past 38 years. Like every other restaurant owner, his business is taking a major hit during the last several months.

Alvin Williams

Hey Bill, welcome to The Check.

Bill Dillon

Hey, thanks.

Alvin Williams

So how did you get the name the name for your restaurant and what's the concept?

Bill Dillon

It’s a really cool story. I'm driving down the road and I pulled out my cassettes at the time--I graduated from 8-track now--I'm looking down my cassettes, Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffet and Earth Wind and Fire and I'm like about the eighth cassette down and says Abbey Road and it was the Beatles obviously. And I'm like cool name. I'm gonna name it Abbey Road. And that's where the name came from. And interestingly enough, it did not start out to be a Beatles themed restaurant. We just thought it was a cool name. About three months into it, this guy walked in and said to me and my partner, “I want to paint a Beatles album, big Beatles fan. I love the name. Can we can I paint you an album? A big album cover.” So to this day, there's a huge canvas in our restaurant that has the Abbey Road, The Beatles walking across the road. Well, from that people started coming in. Hey, do you want this album? Do you want this Beatles mirror? Do you want this poster? And almost everything in the restaurant now was given to me. There's a few things I purchase. A really cool story is a few years ago this guy came in and he was from Australia. And I didn't meet him at the time. He emailed me and said I'm from Australia. I want to send you some records. Albums only released in Australia, and I said, “Well, what can I pay you for it?” He's not wanting money. So finally, after the third email, he started to send me some t shirts. Well, he sent me three albums only released in Australia. The color is different. The design is different, and they're on the wall. It's really, really kind of cool stories like that. Really. I finally did meet him, and he turned out to be a record producer in Australia.

Brady Viccellio

That's awesome. That's a great story. And were you a Beatles fan?

Bill Dillon

I’m a huge Beatle fan. You know, I have older sisters. And they just watched the Ed Sullivan Show when they appeared on there. I was probably seven or eight years old. Eight years old, I think. And yeah, from then on, they got all the albums. I listened to them. And I just loved the music then. And I listened to every single one of their albums.

Alvin Williams

I have an affinity for the Beatles. I'm from England. So I'm from Leeds, and they're from Liverpool. So I grew up listening to their music.

Brady Viccellio

Well, Bill, I've known you for a while. It’s probably been 10 or 15 years, I guess, since we met and I've always known you to be a really straight shooter, you're friendly guy. And you're a huge advocate of restaurants. You fight for your craft. And you've been in the headlines recently, you've sued governor Ralph Northam because you believe that the governor does not have the authority to shut down businesses during a state of emergency. Tell us about your decision to do this. And why do you think you have a case?

Bill Dillon

There's a lot to unpack there. But I've been on the restaurant board locally since the mid 80s. You know, you go to you go to a meeting, ask a question. And then they call you up. “You want to be on our board?” And that's just how it happened two years into my business. I didn't really know what I was doing. From that, about a year later, they appointed me to the state Restaurant Association Board. And so since the mid 80s, I'm still on both those boards. So when this all happened, I went to the local board. I said, “Look, guys, we got to challenge this. He can't just shut our businesses down. Let people have a right to decide whether they feel safe. They want to stay home, let them stay home if they want to go out, let them go out. And they didn't want to touch it. I wrote multiple letters to the mayor and city council of Virginia Beach, saying, you know, we've got to take control. I guess the sternest letter I wrote May 8 to the mayor saying, Tell the governor, we're just going to reopen Virginia Beach on our own terms in a safe manner. I still to this day, I've not got a response from mayor. I go to the state association. It used to be the Virginia Restaurant Association was appointed to, now it’s the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association. I implored them multiple times, multiple letters, please let's challenge the governor. I'm not even saying sue the governor, let's at least get a legal opinion on what he's doing. He can't under his authority, when he declares a state of emergency, he has limited authority to do what he's doing and he's overreaching. He can't just arbitrarily shut down some businesses and not others. So I finally came to the point, I guess the icing on the cake. I started working on a legal argument back in May. There was a gun range in Lynchburg that sued the governor successfully. So I looked at their legal argument, their pleading and the judge's opinion after he decided that they were right. So I started putting something together myself and a lawyer friend of mine who helped me and gave me some advice and direction. And then I guess the icing on the cake after having said all that is when the governor came to Virginia Beach Memorial Day weekend, he wasn't social distancing. He wasn't wearing his face mask, he was taking selfies with strangers. And for him to say, “Oh, gosh, I left my face mask in the car.” Wait a minute, security? Nobody that was with him could go get the face mask? How about the businesses he was walking by on the boardwalk? Nobody had a face mask to give him. I mean, the ultimate hypocrisy. So I'm literally, after that, I'm mowing the lawn and I walk in and I tell my wife, I said, “Look, don't freak out. I want to do something. She just listened. And I said, I want to sue the governor, I just got, I've got to do something.” And that was a big deal for me. I'm walking in and my hands are shaking dropping off the lawsuit at the clerk's office. So it did not come quickly or easily. It was a process. I implored. I try to get everybody locally, and on the state level to help. I even wrote something to the NRA, the government relations person on the National Restaurant Association, and I didn't get a response. I just really felt like I had to do something.

Alvin Williams

Do you have their attention now? You know, you said that you wrote to them, and you did you email?

Bill Dillon

We've had we've had a hearing already. July 1, we had a hearing it was for an injunction. So what happened was the governor's attorneys, they you know, you write a pleading, it's basically your legal argument that you have a case they come back with why we don't have a case. And so they literally dropped that off July 1. So now we have to respond to that pleading. And we're finishing it up that today is going to be filed again tomorrow, the amended pleading, if you will, and the judge will rule on whether I have a case to issue an injunction against the governor's orders, whether he does or he doesn’t, we’ll still have a trial.

Alvin Williams

Okay. You're also suing the superintendent of the Virginia State Police. How does he fit into all this?

Bill Dillon

Well, the only reason he's on there, as well as the Health Commissioner, is on there because they're working together writing these executive orders. And the Superintendent of Police – the state police is the one who enforces the orders. So we're asking for, if the governor I mean, the judge grants an injunction that he not enforce the order on Abbey Road and Health Commission not let the health department come in and shut us down because they deem we're in violation of something. So that's how that works.

Brady Viccellio

In the suit, do you seek damages?

Bill Dillon

I sought damages because I thought that was just the process, but the lawyer, the lawyer found me by the way, I filed this suit on my own. And a few days later, I get a call from a lawyer in Harrisonburg and he has been following, he feels obviously the way a lot of lawyers do that these governors are taking away our civil rights. And he was following us. He found out on some online, legal work, I guess, cases are filed. He called me and he and I said, Well, that's how I hired him. So my original pleading was five pages, his was 70. So he really did a great, thorough job of doing it. I just want to be able to operate my restaurant, legally without fear of… You know, it's bad enough. We're the most regulated industry of all, it's bad enough to follow the rules and regulations that we have already, but to have the health department come in and say, all right, that person is not wearing a mask, taking your license away. This is crazy stuff. It's crazy stuff.

Alvin Williams

After following the rules, how far is your business down? I presume sales are down and everything is down.

Bill Dillon

I can tell you March, April and May. My sales are down from the previous year $358,000 in gross sales. April alone, we did take out. In fact, we had employees volunteer to deliver food. I wasn't gonna even do delivery, but we had takeout and delivery month of April. We did $12,000 the whole month of April. And we did that on one day last year on a Saturday in April. So that's a perspective. June is not down as much as I thought in July. Obviously, I don't know where that's going to end up. We're just about half a little bit more and halfway through.

Brady Viccellio

So if you're the governor, how do you fix this?

Bill Dillon

You rescind your executive orders. You give guidelines. You tell people “Hey, this is what's out there. If you want to stay home, stay home. If you want to frequent a business, let the business decide if they want to ask you to wear a face mask.” If you want to wear a face mask, they should not mandate it. How about the governor? In early April when he did one of executive orders, he said this is going to last for 90 days or whatever—until June 10. No other governor in the nation was saying that much time. They were doing three weeks, four weeks. Let's see what happens in three or four weeks. How did the governor gene tip just last week at his press conference? He said, I had to go back and watch us when you get it right. He said until we have a vaccination. Who knows if we'll ever have a vaccination. But until we have the vaccination, this is gonna affect people's weddings and other gatherings and the November election.

Alvin Williams

Bill, what are you doing to get your plight out there and bring attention to your your case? And what kind of support have you received so far?

Bill Dillon

Well, I have a social media person that handles my Facebook, and the very first weekend I filed a lawsuit. She calls me up says Bill “What am I to do with all these responses you should try to respond to everybody. We got 200 in the first weekend and mostly positive there was some negative like I don't care about people's health. So we did that and started a GoFundMe page. And I did get a fair amount of donations. And I've kind of been putting that on hold right now to wait to see what happens with the next judge's ruling, which I hope to have in like a week actually. This is all very disturbing and everybody seems to be buying into the facemask thing. All the meeting even you know, people like Fox News, you think might not be the last holdout. And now the CDC, my lawyer found this yesterday or over the weekend, the CDC is saying the cloth face coverings are ineffective. They don't work. But the governor is saying wear a cloth face covering. Well, if they don't work, then what's the point? There are some masks that do work, you know, it's for me, gosh, it's also common sense. The first time I wore facemask was in May I went to a little jewelry shop to buy my wife a Mother's Day gift. “Do you have a face mask?” I'm like, “No,” she's “Well, I'll give you one.” So I'm in there for 10 minutes and I'm thinking I can't breathe. And this can't be healthy. I’m breathing in my own carbon dioxide, some of it. So I go back and do some research and you can find your research on both sides. They work, they don't work. But one of the ones that I thought was pretty valid. It said, you know, you could cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and hypoxia, which is when your your blood is low in oxygen. I say make your own decisions. The CDC says 450,000 to 500,000 people die every year of smoking cigarettes, and that's their numbers. People have a choice. They can choose to smoke a cigarette or they can choose not to smoke. They know the risk. So you take a risk when you get in a car every day, you know, you don't think about it because risk are so low. This is my view very low. Most people are in nursing homes or 70s and 80s. And they have other illnesses and that's what they're, they're dying from. You know, they're sedentary, they're not out and about, you know, in the real world, most of us don't live in nursing homes or assisted care facilities.

Brady Viccellio

What kind of support have you gotten? It sounds like you got this lawyer from Harrisonburg. Is he doing it pro bono now?

Bill Dillon

No. Actually, he sent me a initial bill. And I've actually just given him money. He hasn't been asking for money. So I paid him a fair amount. I said, “Paul, you got to give me a bill soon. So I know where we really are.” He says I'm not worried about it. So he's fighting this for his own reasons, too, I suppose. But there's a lot of legal opinions out there that agree with what we're doing. I've had people in the business community, my peers and other people that have called me or written me and say I support what you're doing, you know, proud of what you're doing.

Alvin Williams

What about opposition? Anyone real verbal about opposing what you're doing?

Bill Dillon

We got some ugly Facebook posts that Bill doesn't care about his employees and all he cares about his money and now it's just not true. Well, you know, again, let's try to let common sense come into play back in the end of March. We had really nice weather. Last week in the March, people were out and about out on the beaches by the thousands--10s of thousands is what I heard at Sandbridge, the oceanfront, Chicks beach. Were there any spikes in the hospitals? Zero. I mean, I can't say zero, but the hospitals did not get overwhelmed. In fact we know people in our neighborhood who work in the healthcare industry. And they're like, this is just this is a bunch of baloney. So go to mid April when people go to the Richmond and they're, they're protesting Governor for the lockdown. He goes a pandemic doesn't care what you're protesting about go home and be safe. So then in May when there's social protests, people have a right to protest. But all these gatherings, the hospitals, the patient first, are they getting overwhelmed? You I think we would know about that in the newspaper -- hospitals are overtaken by COVID-19 patients. You don't see that. The other thing that you hear on the national news and one doctor called it out because they say cases are up and hospitalizations are up. What they don't tell you is hospitalizations up because people get an elective surgery they couldn't get back in March, April, and may they're rescheduling and they're doing that, so they're trying to tie the two together. But they're really not related. There might be minor amount, but people are getting their surgeries that they couldn't get in hospitals never got overwhelmed.

Alvin Williams

Did you notice a surge in your business when all those people were out at the beach and everyone was coming out?

Bill Dillon

No, we were we were shut down March 23 to any indoor business. It was 10 people between March 17 and 23rd. Then we had no indoor dining, and obviously not in April. It was May 15, we could do outdoor dining at 50%. These orders have been so vague, and they're they're hard to follow and understand.

Alvin Williams

So the resort area seems to be a focus of Governor Northam’s latest measures to crack down on overcrowding. And from what I understand teams from the ABC and the health department are conducting spot checks together--some kind of a task force--for potential violations. What have you witnessed so far?

Bill Dillon

I have not seen anything personally and normally have we had anybody come in. But we know people around us have been checked and they shut down a place around the corner I think the other night maybe maybe made them close early. I think because they weren't social distancing, I believe. So that's just you know, you guys have been in business a long time. I mean, we fear the ABC agents, not so much the health department, but they could come in and say you've got a violation and it goes on your record and even when you're trying to do the best things. Gosh, this is so scary to have somebody be able to come in and on their opinion, shut you down. Where is due process? When you're driving down the road and you get a traffic ticket, even for a minor traffic infraction, or a speeding ticket, you get to go in front of a judge if you want, and least let him hear your side of the story. So why can't we set up some type of a process if they think Abbey Road is violating some of the governor's illegal mandates, I call them? Give us our day in court to challenge them, which is I guess what I'm doing beforehand. This is why I'm doing this now. But even so, even if I lose, give me an opportunity to have this being heard out in front of a judge

Alvin Williams

Very, very fair point. From what I understand they're, they're coming together and one will go in the back door of the restaurant and one will go in the front door. And they'll come through to see if people are wearing masks or complying in the kitchen. And your guests getting up walking to the bathroom, such and such. So, it I'm definitely fearful of what they would do to shut us down. And I guess they have the right to do that right now, to say, we don't think that these people are wearing masks, and they should be and we're going to take your license.

Brady Viccellio

I had two weddings over the weekend. And I was very concerned because that was when it first started. And I was concerned that, you know, okay, my guys gotta be masked up doing their thing, because if an ABC agent comes in the front, health department in the back. and they say, “Oh, sorry, y'all are shut down because, you know, John Doe is not wearing his mask.” Then I'm sorry, Bill and Susie, you're not getting married today because the ABC agent saw somebody without a mask go into the bathroom.

Bill Dillon

So one of the executive orders, it had exceptions for wearing the mask, and one of them was exercising. And the other one is if you can't breathe. So, I'm gonna tell you, when we first were able to reopen, and employees were all were wearing masks, they were on Friday night by and Saturday night at the end of night, they were like, “I can't breathe, I can't work.” They're carrying heavy bus pans. They're carrying trays of food. Tell me they're not exercising. And if you don't want to make that argument, they can't breathe.

Brady Viccellio

It's tough on them. It really is.

Well, thank you to Bill Dillon of Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant.

Alvin Williams

What are your hours Bill, you open six days a week, seven days a week?

Bill Dillon

We’re open seven days a week. We have been from the beginning 11am to 2am business permitting and then a few years ago we started at breakfast at 9am Saturdays and Sundays, and then up to late at night. We have live entertainment five nights a week.

Alvin Williams

Awesome. Well, we appreciate you doing the podcast. You've been very informative. So thanks for coming.

Bill Dillon

Thank you. I appreciate you having me here and letting me talk about my suit. I'm hoping that everything will work out for all involved in the best way.

Brady Viccellio

You’ve given us and our listeners a lot to think about and we appreciate your advocacy for restaurants everywhere.

Alvin Williams

Absolutely.

Bill Dillon

All right. Thank you.

Brady Viccellio

I'm Brady.

Alvin Williams

I'm Alvin.

Brady and Alvin

This is The Check.


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