• Pizzeria Mercato will require customers to show proof of vaccination to dine inside but will continue to offer takeout and curbside pickup to anyone.
  • Owner Gabe Barker said he wants to create a safe environment for his customers, even though the policy will “piss some people off.”

Related: This Italian restaurant doesn’t want any vaccinated customers

As the political war over COVID-19 vaccinations and masks continues to rage, the owner of a pizzeria in Carrboro, North Carolina, has made a difficult—and sure to be controversial—choice: Gabe Barker will require proof of vaccination to dine indoors at Pizzeria Mercato.

Barker made the announcement in a social media post last week. On Facebook, the post has generated 627 reactions, 503 comments and 52 shares. The post received 535 likes on Instagram with no comments, negative or otherwise.

“We have been thinking long and hard about how to keep serving our community given the circumstances,” the post read. “Beginning next Thursday, August 12, we will require proof of COVID vaccination to dine inside with us here at Mercato. We make this choice with our team and guests’ safety as our first priority.”

“Navigating our current landscape continues to prove a huge challenge for restaurants, so please continue to be loving and appreciate what myself, my team and every other restaurant in our community do,” the post continued.

Pizzeria Mercato doesn’t offer outdoor dining or delivery, but customers without proof of vaccination can still opt for takeout and curbside pickup.

Related: Grotto Pizza rewards employees for getting vaccinated

Reaction in the Facebook post’s comments section was predictably mixed. One person suggested the restaurant was practicing “a form of discrimination” and suggested installing separate drinking fountains as well. Another expressed gratitude to Pizzeria Mercato for “making a stand and for being an example of how other businesses should conduct their business during these times.”

One person noted, “I’ve yet to see a single negative comment from someone who actually lives in this town. You yokels aren’t driving in from High Point to get pizza. Stop haunting this post with your misinformation and get back to planning your homeschool curriculum.”

Pies like the Salsiccia are big sellers at Pizzeria Mercato.

Barker told the News Observer that he will accept either a physical vaccination card from the CDC or a digital photo of the card.

“Our industry has changed forever,” he told the newspaper. “The people who kept me in business, who ordered takeout every single week for most of the last year, I don’t want them to feel like they can’t feel safe in my restaurant.”

Barker said friends his own age have contracted COVID-19 and continue dealing with long-term symptoms. “The trends are not moving in the right direction,” he said. “The selfishness and disregard for other people struck me as uniquely American. We’re the only country where you could trip and fall on a vaccine.”

He added, “I know I’m going to piss some people off, and that’s fine. It’s about caring about the other people in your community. I believe, for the majority of our guests, it creates and will foster an environment [in which], despite the COVID numbers, we can still feel comfortable.”

Barker opened Pizzeria Mercato with his parents, both veteran restaurateurs, in 2016. That same year, Bon Appetit named it one of “The 3 Best New Pizza Joints in America.”

“You don’t need a fancy, custom-built oven or oddball toppings to win our pizza hearts,” the Bon Appetit article stated. “All you need are good ingredients and attention to detail, both of which chef Gabe Parker’s got in spades. His mustard green, fennel sausage and chile pie, on a perfectly charred crust, could start on the UNC basketball team. It’s that dominating.”

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