Reacting to Sunday’s announcement of the state health department’s decision to implement a three-week closure of restaurant dining rooms, some local restaurant owners and managers say it’s necessary for public safety. Others say it’s a strong-arm political move.
Either way, surging COVID-19 numbers are difficult to ignore.
Idle Hour Restaurant in Spring Lake halted in-person dining several days before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the health department’s decision to ban in-person dining beginning Wednesday.
“We just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Idle Hour owner Jeramy Samdal said. “We’d had some close calls with some customers in the dining room that had tested positive after they had been in. We felt like things were going to get worse before they get better.”
The Samdal family may be more in tune to health scares than others, as their teenage daughter, Berkley, is currently undergoing treatment for leukemia.
“With our situation with Berkley, we had to make sure we’re safe, our employees are safe, and our customers, as well,” Jeramy Samdal said. “We felt like the only way to contribute to that was to close the dining room.”
The original plan was to close for several days, but due to the state orders that closure will now extend several weeks.
Samdal said he feels it’s the right move for the state to close in-person dining.
“I know that not everybody’s going to agree with the decision, and not everybody’s going to feel good about it, because it hits people where it hurts – in the pocket book,” he said. “But money’s not everything. I agree with the decision to close down. We’ve got to take this more seriously.”
Idle Hour will resume takeout orders beginning later this week, Samdal said.
At Fuel Bar+Refuge in Spring Lake, owner Paul Pugsly said he understands the need for a second shutdown, but that doesn’t make the current closure any easier to swallow.
“We totally understand the need to close and not provide indoor service,” he said. “Sadly, for Fuel, a takeout option isn’t really viable, so we will close for however long it’s required for us to close.”
Pugsly said they’re planning on opening a second restaurant in Spring Lake, which will allow them to offer takeout options. The new restaurant will be called Lazy P BBQ and feature brisket, turkey, pulled pork, sausage, potato salads and cole slaws. It will be located on M-104 between 148th and 144th avenues.
“We’re hoping to get that going right after Thanksgiving, maybe the first week of December,” he said.
James Miller, owner of Stable Inn in West Olive, said they’re still working on a game plan, and plan to offer takeout as they did during the first dine-in closure.
“It’s horrible, to be honest,” Miller said. “It hurts everyone involved and obviously our employees are affected by it. A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck. This is drastically going to hurt them. As a business, we will survive, but there are a lot of businesses that won’t survive.”
Miller said takeout business was steady during the first shutdown. He hopes for the same this time.
“I think we adapted really well when it first happened,” he said. “Because we’re not really a to-go kind of place, we added pizza and more to-go-type foods to draw some people our way. We also did a general store, where people could buy fresh steaks and chicken. We’re thinking about doing that again, but we’re still trying to form a game plan.”
Miller said he wishes Stable Inn could remain open, but he understands.
“If this is what we have to do to get through this, that’s what we have to do,” he said.
Miller said a couple of his restaurant’s employees are currently in quarantine due to testing positive for COVID-19.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s unrealistic for people to think you’re not going to get it somewhere.”
Dine-in was going well, Miller said. At 50 percent capacity, there were often hour-long waits. Most customers were cooperative about wearing masks and following CDC guidelines, he said.
Miller thinks the current three-week closure, which expires Dec. 8, will be extended. “I think it will be closer to 6-8 weeks,” he said.
Jenny Muzyczuk, manager at Sporty’s Bar and Grill on Grand Haven’s east side, disagrees with the shutdown.
“I don’t think we should have to,” she said. “I think it should be our choice. If you want to come out, come out. If you don’t want to come out, don’t come out.”
August Johnson, who has leased the kitchen at Sporty’s for the past decade and operates Quality Catering by August in Grand Haven, said Sporty’s stayed afloat with outdoor dining during the summer months, but that is no longer an option.
“We’re going to have to shut down,” Johnson said. “The wind ain’t going to let us seat anyone outside. Outdoor dining helped with the limited capacity. Who doesn’t want to sit outside on a nice summer day and have a cold one and eat a nice meal? That helped a lot of businesses stay afloat. But the weather doesn’t allow us to do outdoor seating now.”
Johnson said his catering business will offer “grab and go” lunches for local businesses and factories.
“I’ve been praying I get some phone calls in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “At Sporty’s, we were just getting some things started again. Breakfast and lunch has been starting to pick up and here we’ve got to shut down again.”
Johnson said he questions COVID-19 numbers and thinks they’re artificially inflated.
“There’s so much mixed news out there,” he said. “How true are the numbers? Are they because the hospitals want more numbers so they can get more money from the government?”
Johnson said he realizes many states are tightening restrictions.
“We have countries that are doing it, too,” he said. “It’s hard to take. We’re getting cooped up for the winter here and we won’t be able to do anything. It makes it hard for everybody. I wish they weren’t doing this. It’s a bad time and we’ve got a long winter ahead.”
Kim Hook, manager of Two Yolks’ Cafe in Grand Haven, said business has been “OK” during the pandemic.
“We’re hoping to have carry-out to keep us afloat – but who knows?” she said. “All we can do is hope and pray.”