In 2020, the world collectively experienced what seemed like enough significant events and trauma to fill a full decade, and the impact of those events is likely to reverberate into 2021 and beyond. The United States endured a ruthless election campaign in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 people, and racial uprisings drew attention to the needless deaths of Black Americans. In the restaurant world, businesses watched their fortunes slide into an abyss of uncertainty and workers scrambled to stay safe while keeping roofs over their heads and food on the table.
This year’s top posts from Eater Detroit reflect the uncertainty of the pandemic and the massive influence protests following the untimely death of George Floyd in Minneapolis reverberated through the food industry. Below are the top-read news stories from 2020 (excluding maps and roundups).
The pandemic moved quickly in Michigan in the days preceding the first publicly confirmed cases in the state. Even before bars and restaurants were ordered to close in-person service on Monday, March 16, businesses were already beginning to temporarily shutter over safety concerns and a dwindling number of customers. Some of those businesses, like Revolver in Hamtramck, never reopened.
It’s perhaps less than surprising that after months of extensions on Michigan’s stay-at-home order, people across the state were eager to learn that the food and beverage industry could resume in-person dining in a limited capacity with new COVID-19 precautions beginning on Monday, June 8. At the time, bars and restaurants in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula had already piloted an opening over Memorial Day weekend. The downstate reopening for bars would only last a few weeks.
Visits to Harper’s, a massive college bar and restaurant in East Lansing, fueled a multi-county COVID-19 outbreak. Many cases were tied to the Grosse Pointe area, where college-aged adults were hosting parties.
No. 7 Member of Conservative, Anti-Gay Group Places Homophobic Cake Order at LGBTQ-Owned Detroit Bakery
A member of a fringe conservative Catholic group based in Ferndale allegedly placed a offensive order for a Pride cake from beloved Livernois bakeshop Good Cakes & Bakes with a hate-filled, anti-LGBTQ message. Owner April Anderson eventually filled the order with a note to the individual stating “God Is Love and Love Is God.” The individual never came to pick up the cake and it ultimately ended up in the garbage. A fundraiser created following the incident raised more than $2,000 to support an LGBTQ health center in Corktown.
Nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis reverberated across the world. Over the spring and summer, Eater fielded dozens of accounts of individuals tied to the food world allegedly making violent or racist statements, mostly on social media, related to those protests. Among those accused was Shawn Harrington, owner of Hot Taco and Town Pump Tavern in downtown Detroit. Harrington never released a statement responding to the criticism of his alleged remarks.
Northern Michigan is always popular during the summer, but hordes of people headed Up North in 2020 in an attempt to get away from the stresses of the pandemic. Unfortunately, they brought COVID-19 with them. Per a media release, a group that traveled to multiple restaurants and wineries in the Traverse City area ended up testing positive for the disease. Many business closed down to clean. While the local health department initially recommended people at the locations in question self-quarantine, the recommendation was eventually downgraded to self-monitoring.
This was the first story Eater Detroit published about Harper’s, but it wouldn’t be the last. The college bar’s huge novel coronavirus outbreak — which eventually sickened at least 188 people — attracted national attention and confirmed many people’s fears about what could happen if people dined out while sick during the pandemic. Harper’s was in many ways a unique case. It is one of the largest establishments in the state, meaning capacity rules did little to limit the number of people gathering inside. At the same time younger people (the type who lined up in droves at Harper’s), who are somewhat less susceptible to the most dangerous COVID-19 outcomes, would become a driving force behind the spread of new cases around the country during the summertime. The Harper’s incident would eventually be cited as a reason to extend restaurant and bar closures in New York.
Downtown Royal Oak’s massive Hopcat location turned out to be a bellwether of the financial troubles for the Grand Rapids-based gastropub chain. Not long after the Royal Oak closure was confirmed, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing problems with rent payments at its numerous properties. A private equity group purchased the restaurant chain out of bankruptcy in October for $17.5 million.
No. 2 Detroit Popcorn Co. Faces Backlash Over Owner’s Alleged Social Media Posts About Police Brutality Protests
Detroit Popcorn Company, a nearly 100-year-old brand, faced blowback after the owner, allegedly using a pseudonym, made inflammatory comments suggesting that protesters demonstrating against police brutality deserved “knee’s on there necks (sic)” — a reference to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The company faced calls for a boycott and a minority-owned investment firm, Harris Financial Group, stepped in to buyout the brand.
Following extending dining room closures in spring 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cautiously began allowing businesses to resume in-person service in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula over Memorial Day weekend. While being able to serve customers again was a relief to some establishments going into the busy summer season, it was also challenging to prepare on short notice and worrisome to some members of the industry trying to provide hospitality while keeping people safe. This report by Stacey Brugeman struck a chord with many of Eater Detroit’s readers, as they prepared for a downstate reopening or develop plans for summer vacations. The summer season would ultimately break sales records for some businesses, while pushing others to their limits.
• All Year in Eater Coverage [ED]