A report from Metro Times alleges that Adachi, a Japanese-influenced restaurant and sushi bar in Birmingham, is the site of a large outbreak of COVID-19 among staff. Multiple current and former employees claim to the alt-weekly that at least six front-of-house service workers have tested positive for the disease caused by novel coronavirus, while two others are symptomatic. Former employees also allege that the restaurant has engaged in unsafe practices outside of state-mandated safety protocols, potentially putting workers and customers at risk.
Reached by Eater, the restaurant group confirms that six people associated with the restaurant have tested positive for COVID-19. The restaurant closed for sanitizing shortly after being informed by an employee on Monday, August 10 that they tested positive, general manager David Kraus wrote in a provided statement to Eater. Asked whether employees had undergone any mandatory testing following the first case, Kraus states that staff were “absolutely tested” and that the owners paid for the tests. Kraus adds that management conducted an internal investigation and a review of safety policies. “It was concluded that Adachi management had taken all necessary steps per CDC, state of Michigan and Oakland County Health Department guidelines,” Kraus’s statement reads.
Eater requested clarification on the timing of the other five cases and did not receive a response at press time.
The Metro Times report was based off interviews with current and former staffers including two — Justin Haug and one other unnamed employee — who claim they were fired for expressing concerns about workplace safety in June. Haug believes he was fired, in part, in retaliation for shooting a video of the restaurant during service that allegedly shows Adachi violating mask and social distancing mandates. Kraus disputes Haug’s characterization of his departure from the restaurant, stating that they “have documentation that Justin quit Adachi” and was not fired. The two former employees have filed complaints with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MOSHA) and the National Labor Relations Board. Haug is being represented by attorney Tony Paris of the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.
The Metro Times reports that several staff members have also filed “multiple complaints” with the Oakland County Health Division (OCHD), which resulted in one surprise inspection of the restaurant on an unspecified date “around 5 p.m. when there were few guests at the restaurant.” Eater has reached out to the OCHD, which tracks COVID-19 cases in the area, for more information positive cases associated with the restaurant and whether any actions have been taken towards the restaurant. While Eater did not receive a response at press time, a representative for OCHD issued a statement to the alt-weekly on Thursday, August 28 after the report’s initial publication:
We’re ensuring that [Adachi is] in compliance with all health orders and they definitely have responded positively and are working to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.
Haug pointed to several incidents at Adachi as concerning. Haug claims that during a May call, Kenny Koza, who owns the restaurant with developer Clint Monsour, minimized workers’ concerns about returning to the job during a pandemic by stating that they had “been watching too much CNN.” Kraus tells Eater in a statement that the statement was taken out of context. “Only one small portion of Kenny’s statement, made in a private team meeting, was shared with local media by a former employee,” he writes. “There was a much larger, from the heart, team building message that was provided and those words that he used were completely out of context of the entire message.”
In another incident shortly after reopening, Haug described a day when a rainstorm occurred during service and customers on the patio rushed inside to take cover. Haug alleges to the Metro Times that the ownership pulled more tables out of storage for the crowd. Kraus confirms that a crowd did gather inside the restaurant on the third night after the restaurants reopening when it “unexpectedly rained.” Kraus says that “everyone ran inside and we learned from that experience and have taken new measures since then to stop it from happening again.” The former staffer further claims that an owner is known to travel between tables without a mask — a violation of state executive orders.
In statements to Metro Times, Kraus said that workers “didn’t get sick because ownership and management didn’t do everything they could, they got sick because a person to the left or right of them didn’t take this serious enough.”
As for the NLRB, the original case filed against Adachi was filed on Thursday, June 25. While its status is currently listed as open, Kraus shared documentation with Eater from the board’s regional director Terry Morgan stating that he has approved the withdrawal of the charge. Attorney Tony Paris told the Metro Times that he plans to file a second complaint with the NLRB claiming that Haug was taken off the schedule — effectively fired — for shooting video of the restaurant, discussing concerns with employees, and bringing those concerns to management.
Restaurants and bars play a significant role in community spread of novel coronavirus and employees at establishments who work in close proximity to other employees and the public who cannot wear a mask while eating or drinking are at particular risk. In June and July, multiple restaurants, bars, and nightclubs were tied to outbreaks including one at Harper’s in East Lansing, where issues with crowd control and enforcement of state policies led to 188 cases across multiple counties. Until very recently, state and local agencies provided a very limited picture of the role that different types of settings play in COVID-19 outbreaks. However, on Thursday, August 20, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services began reporting the number of new and ongoing outbreaks by region and setting. While the data doesn’t provide perspective on the magnitude of the outbreaks — or how many confirmed cases are associated with a site — it does offer a window into the potential risks associated with different settings.
In a statement, Kraus says that Adachi is taking the following measures to keep workers and customers safe:
- Hiring security personnel to monitor mask-wearing on premises
- Temperature check and health questionnaire for all employees each day
- Free masks to all customers without one. Adachi has distributed over 2,000 since reopening
- Hand sanitizers throughout restaurant
- Dedicated employee sanitizing all touch points throughout the restaurant all day long
- Transitioned to reservation only system to ensure guests are seated to limit congregating in common areas
- Plexiglass at sushi bar
- Bar seating limited to four guests from 12
- Distanced tables throughout restaurant
• COVID-19 Outbreak at Popular Birmingham Sushi Restaurant Sickens Up to 9 Employees [Metro Times]
• Adachi Restaurant Case [NLRB]
• Michigan Finally Starts Publicly Reporting COVID-19 Outbreak Data for Bars and Restaurants [ED]
• How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]
• All Coronavirus Coverage [E]