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Big Boy restaurant in Michigan's Thumb defies state health order by staying open

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A third-generation family-owned Big Boy restaurant in Sandusky, Michigan is staying open for in-person dining, despite the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' three week ban on indoor dining and drinking in Michigan's restaurants and bars. Restaurants and bars may stay open for outdoor dining, carry out and deliveries only under the November 15 order.

The temporary ban took effect on November 18 with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19 as it surges across the state.  

Troy Tank, a co-owner of the restaurant, said they closed down during the state's first shutdown order. But he said if they do not stay open now, the business could go under. 

"The reason we did this was for our employees and for our small town," said Tank. "We just couldn't see any other way of coming through and still be in existence as a business on the other end of this."

Tank said the Sanilac County Health Department has ordered the restaurant to close or risk fines of up to $1,000 each day.

The county health department did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Tank has started a GoFundMe page to help pay potential legal fees and fines. 

"If there is legal consequences and some fines that need to be addressed and paid, we will be glad to pay what we need to pay and move on with life," said Tank. "But at this point it was kind of a do or die situation for us. So we decided to fight.  If we were going to go down, we're going to go down fighting."

"Our employees going off and on unemployment and not having any kind of steady income are counting on us to keep their households moving in the right direction," said Tank, noting his restaurant employs 22-25 people. "You know, creditors don't quit calling just because a pandemic's in town."

A Facebook post by E.G. Nick's Grill and Tavern in Lapeer, Michigan, said local restaurants are banding together to reopen despite the state's November 15 order. 

"Unlike the dine-in ban earlier in the pandemic, there's no federal aid this time around. There's no expanded unemployment benefits for jobless restaurant workers. There's no CARES ACT or PPP support for our businesses," stated the Facebook post.

In a subsequent post,  E.G. Nick's Grill and Tavern said it would not re-open "due to factors that are out of our control and would result in our being shut down."

An MDHHS spokesman said in a written statement, "Targeted and temporary closures that include restaurants have been part of successful strategies for containing COVID surges in Western Europe.  Other states are now following this approach, and it is supported by leading public health experts nationwide."

Last Friday, a federal judge rejected a request from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association for a temporary restraining order to block the state's recent restrictions on indoor dining. The lawsuit is not over, and a hearing is scheduled for Monday.

This story was updated 11/25.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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