OGDEN — I’ll have the fish and chips — and hold the holster.
Sea Bears Ogden Fish House, which made headlines earlier this spring for the restaurant’s practice of being an “open-carry” business, may be putting away the guns. Or, at the very least, concealing them.
For more than a year now, owners, employees and patrons of the restaurant at 2550 Washington Blvd. have been invited to open-carry the firearm of their choice in the establishment. But with the recent announcement Sea Bears is relocating to the former site of Union Grill, Ogden’s Union Station officials now say they won’t permit openly carrying a gun there.
Sea Bears moving to Union Station raised issues with some in the community about employees and patrons carrying handguns in visible holsters. Charles Trentelman, secretary of the Union Station Foundation, said they’d been trying to work out those issues.
“The whole gun thing, it was a concern because we know it’s very divisive,” Trentelman said.
As a result, Trentelman said when foundation executive director Elizabeth Sutton negotiated the contract with Sea Bears, it included a number of provisions regarding open-carry. Among them was that weapons could only be carried by owners and servers who’ve had safety classes and background checks, that weapons had to be holstered, and that the guns could be no longer than 12 inches. Weapons would also only be allowed inside the restaurant, and not in other areas of Union Station.
“There was also the provision that if it became an issue, Elizabeth could say, ‘No, we’re not going to allow open-carry guns,’” Trentelman said. “They assured us it would all be done carefully, and with that mutual agreement, we went ahead with it.”
However, when word got out about some wanting to exercise their Second Amendment rights, that’s when others began employing their First Amendment rights. After Union Station officials received numerous complaints about the restaurant’s open-carry policy, Sutton decided to exercise the weapons clause in the contract.
Sutton said there’s been a lot of misinformation circulating about Sea Bears, and she wanted to clear that up.
“I believe the misinformation came with people believing that we were going to allow open-carry in the Station,” Sutton said. “It is not allowed, and we have not had a problem. I had my staff put up signs today.”
On Friday, signs were posted on the doors of the building at 2501 Wall Ave. reading: “The open carry of firearms is not permitted in Union Station.”
Sutton and Trentelman say Union Station is erring on the side of caution.
“In this day and age, to see somebody carrying in public, you don’t know right away if it’s friendly or scary,” Sutton said. “So, to make everyone feel safe, we felt that open-carry does not meet our mission and goal.”
Trentelman said the issue may seem a bit odd at a place that houses the John M. Browning Firearms Museum.
“It is kind of ironic,” Trentelman admitted. “Here we are, a gun museum …”
Sutton pointed out the contract doesn’t preclude the carrying of weapons by those with concealed-carry permits.
“But, according to the permit, they have to remain concealed,” Sutton said.
Sutton said she’s talked to restaurant owners Tony and Monika Siebers, and they’ve been responsive to her concerns.
“They have been very amenable to no open-carry,” Sutton said.
Sea Bears started moving into Union Station on Sunday, Aug. 14. The Siebers say they’ve been busy getting ready to serve customers and declined to comment on the issue.
“We’ve had a great relationship (with Union Station) and we’re excited to be here,” Monika Siebers said late Friday. “But as far as the open-carry, we’re not ready to say anything.”
Despite the rocky start to the relationship, Sutton hopes Union Station and Sea Bears will be able to work together.
“We’re excited that Sea Bears is moving in,” Sutton said. “We’re happy to have Monika and Tony; we think they’re going to be a great addition.”
Having a tenant in the space formerly occupied by Union Grill isn’t a luxury, according to Trentelman. The Union Station Foundation’s annual operating budget is about $800,000. When Union Grill moved out, it left Union Station with some leased space “we had to fill up fairly quickly.”
Trentelman said the foundation gets $54,000 per year from the city and another $100,000 per year from the legislature for the state railroad museum. But utilities alone run more than $150,000 a year. The foundation has to come up with the rest of the money, through leases and other means.
“And the biggest lease was Union Grill,” Trentelman said, estimating rent at around $7,000 a month. “That was giving us a good chunk of change every month. When they decided to leave, it left us in the lurch.”
As uncomfortable as this dust-up may be, Sutton said she appreciates everyone’s openness.
“If nothing else, I’m glad the community is talking about this,” she said. “This is such a taboo subject, it’s good to get it out into the open.”