Restaurant industry leaders and owners express frustration over quiet restriction extension

Three days after reopening restaurants, a new order quietly extended restrictions on the industry through March 29.
Upper Michigan Legislators frustrated with restaurant restriction extension
Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 6:42 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Frustration is building among leaders in the restaurant industry about coronavirus restrictions that were quietly extended earlier this month.

In a story first brought to you by TV6 on Wednesday, an extension of current restrictions, like the 25% capacity limit and 10 p.m. curfew, went into effect at the beginning of the month. However, weeks later industry leaders and restaurant owners are now just finding out.

“I felt like we were kinda duped like how…we were all expecting on the 22nd, ‘okay maybe we can open 50%,’” said Steve Whelan, Owner of Big Boy in Marquette.

That’s because current restrictions on restaurants were originally set to expire on February 22.

However, three days after reopening a new order, the same one allowing contact sports to resume play, quietly extended these restrictions through March 29.

“Frankly here at the Michigan Chamber, we didn’t know,” said Rich Studley, CEO of Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The governor made no mention of the extension at her three press conferences since the new order.

“Why would the governor keep them in the dark about this important decision?” said Studley.

TV6 asked the governor’s office for an explanation, but they declined to comment. Instead the state health department issuing a response saying the order was “widely distributed” and that it has “amended orders prior to expiration”. On Wednesday the governor said she understands the impact on the industry.

“This last 12 months has been hard for everyone and the burden has been greater on the restaurant industry,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Michigan.

These comments coming on the same day the governor’s office and state health department, received a new proposal from the restaurant industry.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association's new proposal.
The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association's new proposal.(MRLA)

Under the proposal, a lower testing positivity rate would mean less restrictions. With the state’s testing positivity rate currently at 3.5%, the proposal would allow 50% capacity with no curfew.

“I hope they view this as a good faith gesture from the industry of how we can work together to create great clarity,” Justin Winslow, CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“I think it’s time we try to open up,” said Whalen. “I don’t want people to get sick either. There’s a catch 22 there, but it’s been a long time coming.”

On Wednesday, the governor would not say whether she supports the proposal.

“We will always take that input and make it a part of the conversation that we are having,” said Whitmer.

Republican U.P. lawmakers, Representatives Beau LaFave, Greg Markkanen and Senator Ed McBroom are criticizing the extension saying in part: “The continued untransparent, suffocative, and heavy-handed style of governance from the executive branch must end now. It is high time for Michigan to join every other neighboring state in easing restrictions and resuming normal operations. Governor Whitmer must stop her unilateral rule and work with the only lawmaking body—the Legislature—to accomplish this.”

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