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Opinion | Dear Gov. Whitmer, our Michigan restaurants must open now to survive

Dear Governor Whitmer,

Thank you for your service to our state and for helping us during this terribly difficult time. We’ve stayed quiet on all things political, and don’t intend this to be political. This is not about right or left, this is about the livelihoods of everyone in the restaurant industry and the decision to extend the ban on dine-in service until Feb. 1.   

As you are well aware, there are more than 100,000 unemployed hospitality workers and many restaurant owners on the brink of bankruptcy. At your recent news conference, when referring to the bans on indoor dining you said, “They’ve never been closed, they have take-out opportunities and they have outdoor dining,” While this is correct, many of us in the industry felt that this didn’t show enough empathy or understanding for our businesses.  Most of our businesses simply cannot survive on take-out alone. The loss of sales has put thousands of small restaurant operators in Michigan on the verge of bankruptcy. 

We completely understand your concern for safety. But we have met all three of the “Key Metrics for Safe Restart” established by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average of new cases, hospitalizations and percent positivity are all within the metrics for a safe restart established by MDHHS. 

Let’s address the elephant in the room. We know that there were some restaurants that didn't follow the rules when we were allowed to be opened. Let us be clear: They were irresponsible and wrong.  On the other hand, I can assure you that we took the safety restrictions extremely seriously and we were diligent about enforcing them.  We made sure social distancing was enforced, we demanded all customers wear masks, we have kept health screening data on every single employee every day for the entire pandemic, we added barriers, we increased sanitization protocols, and much more. We can assure you that we were keeping our employees and customers safe. Please don’t punish us all because of the ignorant actions of the few bad operators. 

During this pandemic, our staff has been on the front lines serving the community while putting themselves at risk. We feed the hospital workers, the children with no lunch programs, the churchgoers, and the less fortunate.  We innovate to promote safe practices to get our product to our customers with online ordering, curbside, takeout, and delivery.  We do this to survive, but also because we take our responsibility in the community very seriously. 

Although we have grit, we are running out.  We need to open. Restaurants are the backbone of a community, employing over 15 million people nationally, and feeding our communities. Thirty-three percent of restaurants in Michigan say that they will not be able to stay in business, according to the MRLA

Please, let us open safely as soon as possible. Thank you very much for your consideration and for all you have done for our state! 

Signed,

  • Travis Stoliker, co-owner of Saddleback BBQ, Lansing and Okemos 
  • Matthew Gillett, co-owner of Saddleback BBQ, Lansing and Okemos
  • Stefan Nava, co-owner, Danzon Cubano, Grand Rapids
  • Nick Gavrilides, owner, Soup Spoon, The Bistro and The Urban Cup, Lansing and Williamston
  • Jim MacQueen, Coach's Pub & Grill, Lansing
  • Mike Luther, owner, Bridge Street Social, DeWitt
  • Maricela Villalvazo, owner, The People's Kitchen, Lansing
  • Matt Rhodes, owner, Dustys Cellar & Wine Bar, Okemos
  • Nicholas Sinicropi, owner, Art's Pub, Good Truckin' Diner, D Coy Ducks and Reo Town Tattoo Co., Lansing
  • Ryan Soule, owner, Oakwood Bistro, Kalamazoo
  • Sam Rashed, owner, Zaytoon, Lansing and Holt
  • Greg Sinicropi, owner, Crossroads Grill and Bar (Leslie), Art's Pub and D Coy Ducks, Lansing
  • Eric Allchin, owner, The Tribune: Ice Cream & Eatery, Northport
  • Matthew Cottone, general manager, Twin Lakes Golf & Swim Club, Oakland Charter Township
  • Chris Chamberlain, owner, Michigan Princess, Detroit Princess, Grand Princess Riverboat.
  • Joseph Ghinelli, owner, Courthouse Pub & Grill, Mason
  • Tamara Black, owner, Buddies Pub and Grill, Lansing

Additional restaurant owners have requested to be added to the letter.  These establishments have not been verified but we are glad to add their names to the list. Each owner agreed to the following terms:

To sign this letter,
1. You MUST be respectful toward the governor, even if you have disagreements. 
2. You MUST have been an operator of a restaurant, food or entertainment establishment that was impacted by the extension from Jan. 15 to Feb 1, 2021.
3. You MUST have operated your dine-In business, while you were allowed to be open in 2020, within the rules that were established by the state. If you didn't operate by the rules, you cannot sign on to this letter. 

  • David Hunt, owner, Big Boy (St. John’s, Mason, Essexville) 
  • James Cheskaty, co-owner, EnVie, Lansing
  • Ted Darbor, Darb's Crystal Bar, Lansing 
  • Gianni Licari, owner, Licari's Sicilian Pizza Kitchen 
  • Nihal and Andraya Fernando, owners, Fernando's Café, Haslett
  • Joseph Ghinelli, owner, Courthouse Pub & Grill, Mason
  • Tamara Black, owner, Buddies Pub and Grill, East Lansing
  • Natalie Norton, owner, Darb's Patio Bar & Grille and Darb's Country Tavern, Albion
  • Robyn Cole-Mrozinski, owner, Jalapeño's Mexican Restaurante
  • Gump Garmyn, co-partner, Gumps BBQ, Lansing
  • Jim Farhat, owner, Piazzano's, Lansing
  • Jeth Ott, owner, Little Brown Jug,  Maybee
  • Kristin R. Conger, Black Sheep Pub, Alpena
  • Rodrigo Abarca, owner, Oaks Eatery, Three Oaks
  • Michael Carrigan, owner, JunkYard Dog, Jackson
  • Joshua, owner, Portland Party Store
  • Sarah Cox, president, The Garden Griddle and Creative Catering Services, Paw Paw 
  • Cathryn Neracher, owner, My Trivia Live, Garden City 
  • Teresa Hull, owner, Linda’s Corner Landing, Ionia
  • Mark Miller, owner, Little Camille's by the Bay, New Baltimore
  • Mike Kelly, owner, Kelly Equipment Service, Bath
  • Rob VanPatten, owner, The B&I Bar, Lansing
  • Kelly Stapp, operator/general manager, Clifford Lake Inn, Stanton
  • Taylor and Matthew Prestidge, owners, Soulard’s, Coloma
  • Michael D. Skory, piano player/singer/entertainer, Piano Bar Mike, Lansing
  • Tony Dacoba, owner, La Cantina Ristorante Italiano, Paw Paw
  • Richard Dallett, owner, The Vestal Inn, Belmont
  • Derek Allen Sandmire, general manager, Charlie’s Bar and Grill, Westphalia 
  • Thomas Saint Amour, owner, The Chocolate Moose
  • Christopher Potter, owner, Onondaga Tavern,  Onondaga
  • Dawn E. Slater, owner, City Limits Restaurant, Newaygo
  • Arby Schleman, co-owner,  Eaton Rapids Craft Co., Eaton Rapids 
  • Jennifer Trout, owner, Red Arrow Roadhouse, Union Pier
  • Martin & Amy Ramos, owners, Amy’s Catering and The Thirsty Bird Bar & Kitchen, Charlotte
  • Canyon Platt, owner, Alma's Main Cafe, Alma
  • Daniel C. Riedy, owner, Riedy's Pizza Tavern, Charlotte
  • Jeff Neely, owner, Old Chicago (Okemos, Midland, Southgate and Kentwood)
  • John Baier, proprietor, El Nibble Nook, Livonia
  • John A. Mamouzellos, owner, Galley Grill, Stevensville
  • Natasha Lynn Bissell, owner, Kramer’s Bar and Grill, Pewamo
  • Angie Green, owner, Evergreens Coffee and Bakeshop, Oxford
  • Christanne Hamilton, manager, Stober's Bar, Lansing
  • John Foster, co-owner, The Wheel Inn, St. Johns
  • Pamela Foster, co-owner, The Wheel Inn,  St. Johns
  • Michele Mathews, owner/manager, Wooden Shoe Restaurant, Holland
  • Denny and Michelle Emmer, owners, Cheezy D's, Hazlett
  • Bill and Tom Corey, owners, Corey’s Lounge, Lansing 
  • Teresa Vander Zwaag, owner, The Farmhouse, Zeeland
  • Jeanette Ellsworth, owner, Sunnyside Cafe, Williamston
  • Marc Harger, owner, Office Lounge & Grill, Oscoda and Glennie Tavern, Glennie    
  • Kimberly Ball, owner, Country Creek Reception Hall, Dimondale
  • Jeremy Sprague, president and head brewer, Sleepwalker, Lansing
  • Michael Zajac, owner, Two Yolks' Cafe, Grand Haven
  • Mark Fink, owner, The Watershed Tavern and Grill, Haslett
  • Emily & Colin Quiney, owners, Back Door Saloon,  Houghton Lake
  • Kathy Grover, owner/operator, Frog Tiki Bar and East Bay Grille, Prudenville
  • Debra Cheneyo, owner, JD's Old Town Tavern and The Houghton Lake Shrimp Shack, Houghton Lake
  • Bob Taylor, owner, Country Pub, Gregory
  • Annette Nelson, manager, Stanz Cafe, Grand Haven
  • Cora Hallauer, owner, The Limberlost (Houghton Lake), The Firehouse and Budd Lake Bar (Harrison)
  • Matt and JoAnn Stevens, co-owner/brewer, Barn Brewers Brewery, Lawton
  • Joe Wolf, operations manager, Louie’s Trophy House and Louie’s Corner Bar, Kalamazoo
  • Erin Lyon, owner, Jumpin’ Java, Grand Haven
  • Christopher Potter, owner, Onondaga Tavern
  • Chris Housler, owner, University Roadhouse /Main Street Pub, Kalamazoo
Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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