‘Don’t shut her down’: Anti-mask protesters rally behind Windermere restaurant after owner says she wouldn’t require face masks

WINDERMERE, Fla. — Anti-mask protesters gathered outside a Windermere grilled cheese restaurant on Saturday to support the owner after she said she wouldn’t require masks inside her establishment.

In response, the protesters organized the gathering outside 33 & Melt with a promise of 100 free meals for patrons who come without any masks.

Orange County currently has a mask mandate in place requiring face coverings in public.

“Coronavirus

READ: Florida reports record-shattering 15,300 new COVID-19 cases

The protest came a day before Florida hit its highest-ever single day increase in COVID-19 cases, reporting more than 15,000 cases in 24 hours.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents inspected the restaurant Saturday and questioned restaurant owner Carrie Hudson as protesters shouted “don’t shut her down” and “it’s wrong.”

“This is a single woman who is running this grilled cheese business, this is her dream and all she is doing is standing up for the rights of people to make their own medical decisions, OK,” said protester Chris Nelson. “And you know what? You want to call me selfish for not wearing a mask? I want to say to you, all the people calling me selfish, you are the one who is trying to force me, a medical procedure, so you can feel more safe.”

READ: Senator says it’s ‘irresponsible’ that Florida doesn’t have statewide face mask mandate

“If you are afraid, if you are at higher risk, feel free to stay home, feel free to wear a mask, feel free to social distance,” added protester Tara Hill. “That is your choice and we respect it. We want our choices respected as well.”

In April, 33 & Melt caused a stir on social media after the owner posted that she would reopen the restaurant for dine-in seating before Florida’s shutdown measures lifted.

Thomson Reuters contributed to this report.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.