(EDGE) The owner of Hamburger Mary's — a popular chain of restaurants catering to a gay clientele — alleges that a Florida county health department that shut down one location of his restaurant last fall did so on false pretenses, and says it was because of the eatery's LGBTQ ownership and patrons, ABC News reports.
The Hillsborough County Health Department claimed that an employee of the Ybor City branch of Hamburger Mary's restaurant had tested positive for Hepatitis A and spread word of this via a public warning.
The health department made the move last October, and owner Kurt King told the media at the time that he was closing the Ybor City location even though it was eventually given the okay to reopen.
"It's just that it's been on the media day after day after day," King said.
King had been hoping to limit the negative impact on his larger business interests, but he indicated to ABC News that his business is still feeling the effects.
"It costs me everything I own," King told ABC News. "I'm just trying to stay open at the other two locations, fighting for payroll, fighting to pay the food bills, fighting to pay everything.... And I feel the health department did me wrong."
King also claimed that his business was singled out, noting that "Over 400 people in the state of Florida have Hepatitis A." The business owner asked, "Where do they all work at? Why weren't they put on the news? Why weren't their restaurants and businesses destroyed like mine?"
King suggested an answer to those questions, saying, "I think they targeted us because we're a gay restaurant, gay-owned, popular gay restaurant."
Furthermore, King contends that the employee in question actually tested negative on his hepatitis screenings for all strains of the disease, and he said he has the lab test results in hand that prove it.
ABC News alleged in its report that that "four other local restaurants" had workers who were infected with hepatitis, and yet the country's health department issued no similar public warnings and refused to identify those establishments.
The head of the country health department, Dr. Douglas Holt, denied targeting Hamburger Mary's because of its gay ownership and clientele, but still seemed to insinuate that one might expect to find disease where there are gay men.
"If you're going to fish, you need to go where the fish are," ABC News quoted Holt as saying. Holt argued that a significant number of people with hepatitis "would be a mixture of homelessness, and particular sexual activities. The classic category is men having sex with men."
Watch the ABC News video on the story below.