News Story

Restaurant In Trouble For Letting A Single Family Use A 100-Person Room

The law’s the law, says state health department

Flint-area restaurateur Dave Gillie says he has done his best to comply with the large number of state regulations imposed under the auspices of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which include cleaning, masking, screening and distancing requirements.

“I followed the law meticulously,” said the owner of Gillie’s Coney Island in Mt. Morris.

But Gillie says he finds himself at odds with local health inspectors nonetheless. That’s because of a policy under which he permits solitary diners, or a handful of people from the same household, to use his otherwise mostly empty dining room to consume the hot dogs they purchase from him.

Gillie said the plain language of the “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” imposed by state Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon permits it. Under the order, which ostensibly bans indoor dining until Jan. 15, a single diner or a household group of fewer than six is not considered a “gathering.”

Gillie said the indoor option has been used infrequently, mostly by elderly patrons who don’t want to eat in their vehicles or alone at home. And the risk posed by a single, occupied table in a dining room that was designed to seat up to 110, and is also open to those picking up orders or needing to use the restroom, is virtually nil. But Genesee County health officials believe otherwise, Gillie said.

The restaurant owner got a call from an inspector in the week before Christmas, “demanding I stop this practice,” he says.

Gillie spoke to a supervisor who claimed she has received numerous complaints, and told him she would “shut me down and issue violations.” He says it is unlikely that the department received many complaints; the attention was more likely attributable to a Facebook post he made about the policy, he said.

No citations have been issued.

Neither the supervisor nor the head of the county’s environmental health division responded to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, however, did say, “Food service establishments are not allowed to permit indoor dining, regardless of table configuration or spacing,” except under limited exceptions, such as for custodial settings, medical facilities and shelters.

Gillie says his modest accommodation for those wishing to dine indoors is not motivated by personal gain. Unlike many other food service establishments, Gillie’s Coney Island has not been decimated by COVID restrictions. It has, he says, always relied heavily on take-out orders, which have grown since state-ordered shutdowns were enacted. The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association filed suit to block the most recent shutdown order, which it said lacked “clear and specific data” to justify an action which was causing catastrophic harm to the industry and thousands of employees who depend on it. A federal judge denied the association’s request for a restraining order.

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.