Defiant U.P. restaurant first in Michigan to get judge's shutdown order
An Upper Peninsula café is the first restaurant in Michigan to receive a judge's order to close after failing to comply with epidemic orders banning indoor dining at restaurants and losing its food license.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Wanda Stokes issued a temporary restraining order Thursday against Café Rosetta in Calumet that requires the restaurant to close its doors because it does not have a valid food service establishment license.
The cafe's license was pulled earlier in December after it disregarded the state health department's Nov. 18 indoor dining ban and failed to comply with a cease-desist order. An administrative law judge earlier this month upheld the suspension and said the restaurant "posed an imminent threat to the public health, safety, and welfare."
Stokes ruled similarly Thursday.
"There are thousands of Michigan restaurants, bars and businesses trying to do right by their communities and fellow business owners, but their sacrifices must not be undermined because others ignore the law and make up their own rule book during a pandemic," said Gary McDowell, a director for Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The café is ordered to appear before Stokes next Thursday.
Cafe co-owner Amy Heikkinen said the restaurant has no intention of shutting down. The state has offered little consistency or transparency in its orders, she said, and at the end of the day the mother of six said she can't afford not to work.
The restaurant has exceeded its sales records every day for the last three weeks thanks to local support and is receiving backing from across the country, Heikkinen said.
"It’s my right to earn an income to protect and feed my family," she said. "That’s the right of every American. You can’t make me not work.”
Heikkinen said the restaurant has the support of local officials, a factor she thinks pushed the state to file its complaint in Ingham County instead of Houghton County.
"That’s why this is so absolutely ridiculous because it's an eight-hour drive from the county where this judge issued this so-called order," she said.
The agency chose to file its case in Ingham County instead of Houghton County because the Agriculture Department is located in Lansing, Agriculture and Rural Development spokeswoman Jennifer Holton said.
Café Rosetta is among four Michigan restaurants to have had their food licenses suspended in December by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development because of non-compliance with COVID-19 orders. It is also among 16 restaurants that were issued cease-and-desist orders for similar COVID-19 offenses in December.
Other bars and restaurants have been issued citations by the Liquor Control Commission and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for continued indoor operations in spite of indoor dining bans.
Earlier in December, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health director Robert Gordon extended the ban on indoor dining through Jan. 15, but said she would consider lifting it earlier if COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to decrease.
Even if the measures closing indoor dining are lifted, the café will remain closed because it no longer has a license to operate a food establishment, Holton said.
"This is the first time MDARD has had to go to a judge during the pandemic, but it took a number of steps to get to this point," Holton said. "MDARD understands this is very hard on restaurants, but almost all of them are complying."