News Story

Family Restaurant On Brink Fought The Lockdown Law

Now sanctioned by other laws, including suspended liquor license

After the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ordered bars and restaurants to close all indoor dining on Nov. 18 and beyond, many establishments, like Jimmy’s Roadhouse in Newaygo, have been brought the edge of permanent closure.

Jim Cory said that before the current lockdown, he and his employees had just started to recover from the first shutdown ordered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and the restrictions that followed.

Cory said the state health department’s ban on any indoor dining cost his family business 60% to 70% of its revenue between March 16 and June 8.

When the shutdown order was lifted, Jimmy’s Roadhouse reopened its dining room at 50% capacity. Cory said that through it all, he never laid off any of his employees.

“I haven’t let a single employee go. I’m growing and building because I am fighting, and I will not let my employees down,” he said.

Cory has kept the restaurant open while many of his competitors have closed their doors.

“I have competitors that were bigger than I was that are up for sale now,” he said. “They saw this was ridiculous and cut their losses. They did nothing for their employees and shut down before they lost any more money.”

“I just don’t see how all these operators can just throw their employees to the wolves,” he said.

So when the state’s latest shutdown order went into effect on Nov. 18, Cory prepared, once again, to fall in line.

Then he had a revelation.

“I had our schedule set to buckle down and do what we were supposed to do, and I suddenly realized it was our (business) anniversary,” Cory said.

His parents and grandparents had opened their first bar on Nov. 18, 1970 – exactly 50 years earlier. Like Nov. 18 of this year, it fell on a Wednesday. The business has gone through several names since then, and it became a full-service family restaurant. But one thing stayed the same: It’s run by the same family.

“So I called my manager and said ‘all hands on deck, we’re going to be open,’” Cory said.

The restauranteur said he not only kept his dining room open, he went to 100% capacity at the tables.

“If a little bit of its wrong, it’s all wrong,” he said, claiming a number of COVID guidelines that are in conflict with scientific data or simply make no sense.

Cory said he made the decision to fight back for the sake of his employees.

“I would rather go down fighting than sit and watch it sink,” he said of the restaurant. “I’m fighting for my 36 employees. They face such an uncertain future with no job to go to. The unemployment (insurance) isn’t enough. Even if the state comes up with some help, it won’t be enough and it won’t come in time.”

“The clear and present danger here is people’s lives being destroyed by an overreaching reaction to this virus,” he added.

“I’m doing it for my employees and to raise awareness for the other 400,000 in this industry in this state,” Cory said. “And we’re all under the gun from our governor.”

Once the decision was made, he went all in.

He said he stayed open on Nov. 18 and continued to operate as he did before the pandemic hit in March.

Then the crackdown began.

One week later, the night before Thanksgiving, a liquor inspector visited the restaurant, Cory said, and used one of his lottery slips to draw up a map of the way the tables were arranged.

The restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving Day, and on Friday, he said, the state tried to shut him down.

“They took my liquor license off the wall and put a big orange sticker on the door that said my liquor license had been suspended,” Cory said.

“The same day they took my liquor license, 10 minutes later a health inspector shows up with a cease-and-desist order from the health department for violating the COVID guidelines by allowing gatherings and not enforcing the mask ordinance,” he said.

He said the health department didn’t actually shut him down for breaking the coronavirus guidelines. It cited him under an ordinance written in 1919 for the Spanish Flu, which says that the health inspector may restrict gatherings.

“We had to go before an administrative law judge for the liquor license,” Cory said. “I lost and I’m appealing.”

The judge fined him $600 and ordered a 60-day suspension of his liquor license.

Cory still has to face another hearing before an administrative law judge from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on Dec. 17.

“I fully expect to lose,” Cory said. “I don’t know what the fine will be. But I fully expect they will suspend or completely revoke my license.”

The state of Michigan issued a press release when it announced it was revoking the liquor licenses of various businesses, including Cory’s.

“Cases of COVID-19 are incredibly high across the state, and these orders are in place to help prevent the spread of the virus, save lives, and protect our frontline workers,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the state of Michigan, according to the press release. “We need to do everything we can to alleviate the stress on our hospitals and health care workers. Food service establishments like restaurants and bars can help play a critical role by following the order and most of them are doing their part.”

Despite the threats to his livelihood and own personal financial well-being, the restaurant owner has made good on his promise and has kept Jimmy’s Roadhouse open.

In fact, he hasn’t been closed a single day since he defied the shutdown order.

He said his employees are very appreciative of the risks he has been taking to help them.

“I had one employee – a server – come to me and thank me for letting her work because as of Nov. 18, she was two months behind on her rent. She said ‘because you’re letting me work, I’m caught up now,’” he recalled.

“If I had closed down the way the state wanted me to, she would have been evicted and homeless. And that’s what’s happening to the other 400,000 restaurant workers in this state, too,” he said.

Cory said he’s used to being criticized for having an unpopular opinion. He’s been in Facebook jail since June, when he posted something critical of the Michigan governor.

But he said he’s not going to take it lying down while Whitmer’s edicts continue to destroy businesses like his.

Cory said he’s going to stay open until the state locks him out of his restaurant.

“Then I’m going to cut the locks off and open again. I cannot abandon my 36 people,” he said.

“I followed the rules for 32 years under food code and liquor code that I’m licensed under. I’ve been an owner operator of up to three establishments at the same time, all of which have adhered to every food and liquor code 100%,” Cory said. “This whole thing is wrong on so many levels that I guess if I lose in the end, I won’t have anything left anyway.”

The state’s press release also quoted Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: “The vast majority of restaurant and bar owners are doing the right thing and they have temporarily closed their indoor service to help prevent the spread of the virus. We know this is not easy for anyone, this is not an action we take lightly, but the sooner we can mitigate the spread of COVID-19 the sooner we can all get back to doing the things we enjoy.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.