FOOD- THE DISH- Smoke screen: Gov Kaine slips in smoking ban

As Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds predicted in this column two weeks ago, Governor Tim Kaine wants to ban smoking in every restaurant in the state.

"This bill is basically a stategic move to get it to the Governor, who I think will amend it to come up with a pure restaurant smoking ban," said Deeds of recently passed smoking legislation that he voted against.

Sure enough, Kaine has introduced an amendment to bill HB2422 that would ban smoking in restaurants. 

"I remain opposed to a widespread, general ban on smoking in public," Kaine has said in a public statement. "This bill, with my amendment, is narrowly targeted to prevent smoking in restaurants, which is an important step to protect the health of both patrons and employees."

For those famiiar with HB2422, Kaine's amendment represents a reversal. 

Less far-reaching than the proposed Smoke Free Air Act, which died in committee, HB2422 is an amorphous– some might say meaningless– piece of legislation designed to afix what amounts to a Surgeon General's Warning on restaurant windows. While Deeds complained about the "scarlet letter" that businesses were being forced to wear, others saw it as a victory for smokers and restaurants that allow smoking. However, as Deeds suspected, the plan may have been to add fangs to the toothless bill after it passed. 

Dem Delegate David Toscano, who supports Kaine's amendment, bristled at that suggestion, saying it was "extremely unlikely" that passage of the bill was a "strategic move" on the part of its backers. 

Legislators will vote on Kaine's amendment April 4. If the amendment is rejected, it goes back to Kaine for his signature or his veto. The bold amendment will face some stiff opposition in a state that's home to Philip Morris, which employs over 6,000 people in Central Virginia. Taking the popular private-property rights stance, the company says restaurant owners should be allowed to determine their own smoking polices. 

Indeed, here in Charlottesville, the Downtown Grill's Robert Sawrey has made his own decision well ahead of any possible smoking ban. 

"I came to realize that you can't be both," says Sawrey, who made the difficult decision to ban smoking in his formerly cigar-friendly establishemnt starting April 1. "You can't be smoking and non-smoking."

Sawrey says he bought an expensive mechanical smoke eater several years ago, but it just didn't solve the problem. While he has many loyal customers who light up, he's says that complaints from non-smokers and concerns about the heath of his staff finally tipped the scales. 

"This was the only way to deal effectively with the problem of second-hand smoke," he says.

So might other restaurants follow suit? Perhaps. But for many restaurant owners, it's a decision they 'd like to be able to make themselves. 

Staunton's urban ambitions

With the recent opening of upscale Staunton Grocery and hip new eatery Zynodoa (pronounced zina-doe-a), the Queen City appears to be making a move to establish itself as an attractive alternative to the popular Charlottesville restaurant scene. 

"Our restaurant is a little more hip, a little more urban," says Zynodoa co-owner and day manger Susan Goode. "That didn't exist here. Now it does."

Goode and her husband, Jeff, who were both in the construction business, teamed up with Boston restaurant veterans and recent transplants, Myles and Kathryn Eason, to open the stylish eatery around the corner from the Blackfriars Playhouse on February 10.

Named after a legendary warrior– the word is the Native American version of Shenandoah– the European- and Asian-influenced restaurant is, according to Goode, "unlike anything else in Staunton." Stoa Designs, the firm that designed Zocolo and the X-Lounge, helped with the concept.

However, one way the Staunton restaurant has tried to distinguish itself from the Charlottesville scene is by offering a night out that won't break the family's budget.

"Everything on our menu is $20 or below," says Goode. "We're trying to offer the same experience you might have in Charlottesville, but we're making it very affordable and very casual." 

  "This was the only way to deal effectively with the problem of second-hand smoke," says the Downtown Grill's Robert Sawrey, who made the decision to go smokeless ahead of a possible statewide ban.