Restaurants dividing over what to do about new rules

Saturday, July 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The air's clearing in some places and thickening in others more than two weeks after Gov. Frank Keating and the state Board of Health passed tougher restrictions on smoking in public.

Oklahoma City restaurateur Lee Niggemeyer said the rules were the excuse she needed to ban smoking from Queen Ann Cafeteria.

``I don't need to take a lot of flak from my customers who've wanted to smoke,'' Niggemeyer said. ``They can aim it elsewhere.''

The policy also changed at Leslie's Painted Desert restaurant in Oklahoma City but went the opposite direction. The bar and restaurant is now an all-smoking establishment.

``For a lot of people, we're their favorite little neighborhood bar _ a place where they can come to on a hot summer day and have a smoke inside,'' said Corey Bass, the restaurant's general manager.

Claremore's Country Club Lanes bowling alley and Peppers Grill restaurant have tried to block off rooms and create areas with separate ventilation systems for smokers.

Other business are waiting to see what happens as the Oklahoma Restaurant Association challenges the rules in court.

``We agree with the stance of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, so we're not doing anything at this point in time,'' said Norman restaurateur Skay McCall. ``We don't feel that it's up to the governor and the Board of Health to make decisions for us on how we run our businesses. We want to make all of our customers happy.''

The rules allow a 30-day grace period before compliance is enforced.

Health Department officials said calls to county health departments suggest many restaurants have decided to become nonsmoking.

Tulsa's Casa Bonita made that choice.

``Thus far, it's been a positive decision,'' said Rick Brackett, assistant general manager.

``It's opened up more dining space for nonsmoking customers because there isn't a smoking section anymore.''

Several restaurant chains also went smoke-free including Red Lobster, Zio's, Chili's, Taco Mayo, Whataburger, Mazzio's, Furr's and Braum's.

Malin Schroer, owner of the Boulevard Cafeteria in Oklahoma City, said her establishment isn't changing policies until authorities force it to. The restaurant has a small smoking section.

``I listen to my customers,'' Schroer said. ``I run a healthy establishment, and I don't like the government telling me how best to serve my customers. What's next _ the government telling me I can't use salt because people suffer from obesity and high blood pressure?''