L.A. County sues another restaurant for defying COVID-19 orders

Los Angeles County is suing Novo Cafe, an Italian restaurant in the city of Westlake Village that has racked up scores of county citations for violating orders meant to clamp down on the spread of COVID-19.

The lawsuit filed this week states that Novo Cafe hosted diners both indoors and outdoors when doing so was prohibited last winter and continued to operate for months after its public health permit was revoked. The Westlake Village restaurant also failed to have its employees wear masks around customers, according to the county lawsuit.

Novo Cafe’s “actions are putting the health of their workers, customers, and the community at risk,” the county argued in its suit. It is seeking a court injunction to stop the restaurant from continuing to operate in defiance of health orders.

Restaurant owner Massimo Forti declined to comment Friday on the county lawsuit. Novo Cafe owners have called the county mandates “illegal and inappropriate” in a lawsuit of their own against Westlake Village, which revoked its city permit for alcohol sales last year.

The restaurant also argued, in that suit, that there had not been any reported coronavirus cases traced to the business and that asking staff to enforce mask mandates was like “forcing those personnel to practice medicine without a license.” When an NBC4 news crew filmed unmasked workers at the restaurant last summer, Forti told them that he saw adhering to mask requirements as a “sign of submission.”

The Italian restaurant has been one of the most heavily cited businesses for violations of COVID-19 health orders in L.A. County, according to Department of Public Health records. Its public health permit was revoked in February, but county inspectors returned again and again to the restaurant throughout the spring, summer and fall to find that it was still operating.

L.A. County has already sued several businesses for flouting COVID-19 orders, including gyms, a party venue and restaurants. Among them were Cronies Sports Grill in Agoura Hills, which reached a settlement with the county in October; Bread & Barley in Covina, which also reached an agreement with the county; and Tinhorn Flats in Burbank, which is facing ongoing litigation after the restaurant was evicted last year.

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