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Michigan restaurant leaves franchise over virus restrictions

Customers Friday were greeted with “Sandusky Diner” instead of “Sandusky Big Boy,” which the restaurant was called for 35 years.
Credit: Big Boy

SANDUSKY, Mich. — An owner of a restaurant in Michigan’s Thumb Region said Friday that the franchisee has split from its corporate office and changed its name after refusing to stop seating customers as part of state restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Customers Friday were greeted with “Sandusky Diner” instead of “Sandusky Big Boy,” which the restaurant was called for 35 years.

It was one of four eateries cited earlier this week for violating the state’s Nov. 15 order. Three other establishments, including one of the restaurants, also had their liquor licenses suspended.

Big Boy’s corporate office told the owners of the Sandusky restaurant they had 24 hours to get into compliance with the state’s order, said Troy Tank, part owner and operations manager for the restaurant.

“We had already decided we weren’t going to do that,” Tank told The Associated Press. “We would be open only for carryout. We were not in a position to do that again. We had already done it for three months earlier in quarantine.”

Tank said his restaurant tried the carry-out route for a while, but that it wasn’t their “specialty.”

“Our backs were against the wall, and we knew we were going to have to fight,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced limits on businesses amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. A public health order also restricts gatherings.

The restrictions forced Michigan high schools and colleges to halt in-person classes, while entertainment businesses such as casinos, movie theaters and bowling alleys would close for at least three weeks.

Whitmer also urged the public to “double down” with precautions to avoid a shelter-in-place order similar to what was instituted in the spring.

On Friday, Michigan reported more than 341,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 8,900 deaths due to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

The average number of newly confirmed cases over the past two days was more than 8,500 per day. The 172 total deaths reported Thursday and Friday included 108 found in a review of past records.

Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services issued citations to four restaurants Wednesday, while the state’s Liquor Control Commission suspended the liquor licenses.

Sandusky is about 88 miles (141 kilometers) north of Detroit.

Tank said the restaurant already has been fined up to $1,000 per day for each day customers are allowed to dine-in. As of Friday morning, the fines covered five days.

“The health inspector comes once a day to the entry way to see that we have people sitting here and dining in,” Tank said.

Patrick Blake, spokesman for Southfield, Michigan-based Big Boy Restaurant Group, said the Sandusky restaurant is no longer allowed to use the Big Boy brand.

“Big Boy’s number one priority is the safety of customers and staff” and the Sandusky restaurant’s actions “are not representative of Big Boy standards,” Blake said.

According to the state, violations include allowing in-person gatherings, providing in-person dining, failure to require face coverings for staff and patrons, and failure to prohibit patrons from congregating.

Also cited and fined were Café Rosetta in Calumet, Woodchips Barbecue in Lapeer and The Meeting Place in Fenton. Cory’s Restaurant in Newaygo and B. and D. LLC in Fremont, along with The Meeting Place, had their liquor licenses suspended.

Calls and messages The AP left Friday seeking comment from the businesses have not been returned.

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