A handful of restaurant owners across Michigan are continuing to defy state epidemic orders to stop indoor dining service, and more business owners are beginning to call for an organized action.
The orders, which went into effect on Wednesday, November 18, were put in place by the Michigan Department Health and Human Services (MDHHS) for a period of three weeks to help slow the steep upward climb in cases and hospitalizations across the state.
In a letter circulated on Tuesday, November 24, Andiamo and Joe Muer Seafood restaurant owners Joe and Rosalie Vicari called on fellow restaurateurs to rise up and defy the epidemic order if the MDHHS chooses to extend indoor dining closures past the stated three-weeks, according to the Detroit Free Press:
“Our industry cannot survive another extended closure,” the letter says. “Thousands of restaurants and tens of thousands of our employees can not survive it either. We need to band together and FIGHT BACK but we need to do this as a United Group of Michigan Restaurant Owners.”
The letter references a Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association lawsuit against MDHHS director Robert Gordon. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the trade group and two Michigan restaurant operators including Jeremy Sasson of Heirloom Hospitality, seeks to stop the indoor dining closure. A federal judge declined to grant the restraining order, but the case is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, November 30. According to the letter, the Vicaris plan to hold a meeting on Thursday, December 3, for people interested in participating in a group press conference on Wednesday, December 9, announcing the collective action. The letter predicts an extension of the order will be announced on Sunday, December 6.
Almost immediately after the updated epidemic order was announced on Sunday, November 15, there was refreshed outcry among some portions of the restaurant community, who felt the industry is getting unfairly targeted.
Multiple restaurants, decrying the new restrictions and the lack of government assistance for small businesses and hospitality workers, publicly announced that they would be reopening their dining rooms against public health mandates. They included spots like Woodchips BBQ in Lapeer, the Meeting Place in Fenton, Hatorando in Hartland, and even a Big Boy restaurant in Sandusky. After briefly closing and testing the waters for a reopening of the dining room on its Facebook account, Iron Pig Smokehouse in Gaylord also followed suit. E.G. Nicks Grill and Tavern, also in Lapeer, briefly joined other in opening its dining room, but the owner changed his tune after being threatened with a liquor license suspension. Others such as Truago in Trenton have chosen to air their grievances against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration in more creative ways, like with a Grinch inflatable pinned with a sign reading “Gretch the Grinch.”
Thus far, state and local authorities have stepped in to issue fines and and suspend liquor licenses at some of the restaurants choosing to ignore the indoor dining order. On Wednesday, November 25, the state confirmed that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission suspended liquor licenses at three businesses — Jimmy’s Roadhouse in Newaygo, Brew Works of Fremont, and the Meeting Place. Likewise, MDHHS fined Big Boy in Sandusky $5,000 and issued $1,000 fines to Cafe Rosetta in Calumet, Woodchips BBQ, and the Meeting Place for violating the epidemic orders. Donutville USA in Dearborn was also allegedly fined for breaking COVID-19 restrictions, and created a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost.
Some businesses are facing lasting consequences for defying the state epidemic order. After posting a GoFundMe to help pay fines from the state, Big Boy in Sandusky was forced by its corporate partner to change its name to Sandusky Diner over its noncompliance with state health restrictions.
Not all business owners or employees agree with the actions being taken by those defying state orders. However, restaurant owners and workers appear united in their opinion that the second shutdown is more damaging than the first. There’s currently a dearth of federal grants, loans, and unemployment programs like those that were available in the spring to help employees and small businesses navigate the pandemic. With congress on vacation and no sign of a new stimulus package on the horizon, state health experts are in a difficult position where they have to place managing a dire public health situation over the economic health and welfare of people in the state. The fact is, controlling the spread of COVID-19 and the future of restaurant industry are inextricably linked; the industry can’t continue if the virus continues to spread.
With businesses refusing to close their dining rooms, more fines and license suspensions are likely. The public can report any suspected non-compliance issue at an establishment directly to the MLCC online or by calling the MLCC Enforcement hotline at 866-893-2121.
While dining rooms are closed due to concerns over airborne respiratory droplets in enclosed public spaces, some forms of outdoor dining as well as carryout and delivery remain available for customers who wish to support local bars and restaurants.
• Letter From Andiamo Owners Urges Michigan Restaurants to Defy Dine-In Shutdown [Freep]
• Michigan Restaurant Association Denied Request for Temporary Restraining Order on Indoor Dining Ban [ED]
• Michigan Restaurant Association Sues State Health Director Over Indoor Dining Closures [ED]
• For New Detroit Restaurants, Michigan’s Indoor Dining Closure Signals a Difficult Winter to Come [ED]
• Michigan Rolls Back Indoor Dining at Restaurants and Bars [ED]
• Tracking COVID-19 Outbreaks in Michigan’s Food Industry [ED]