DELTON, Mich. — A Barry County restaurant is pleading for the community's help after an issue with their furnace has them facing a more than $40,000 bill to stay open.
Heroes Food & Spirits, located at 121 S. Grove Street, Delton, MI, is a beloved family-owned business that focuses on helping veterans.
Right inside the front door, a hand-painted sign reads, "welcome to our corner of freedom, given to us, preserved, and protected for us by heroes."
"The food is good, and the service is good, but the most important thing to me is these guys," said Mike Ertner, as he emotionally pointed to the hundreds of pictures of veterans hanging on the wall.
"It's an excellent place with great service to a lot of local people," said Matt Hammel, who came for lunch Monday afternoon. "People here all know each other by name, and it's nice to see that, it's very comforting."
'Heroes' opened on Jan. 31, 2022. Mike, and his wife Shannon, said they did it with very minimal start up cash.
"I work 12-15 hour days, plus every Saturday, Sunday, holidays, weekends, I was here," Mike said. "I worked on this place for five years before it even opened."
In February, their Consumer's Energy gas bill was $7,401. They immediately contacted Consumers Energy to come out and check their meters and to see if there were any leaks.
Mike and Shannon were told nothing was wrong.
In March, their gas bill jumped to $11,993. They said one day a customer of theirs overheard them talking about the problem, and he just so happened to be an HVAC technician.
"When he looked at the furnace, he noticed the heat exchanger had malfunctioned and was pouring out natural gas," said the Ertners. "We had no choice but to replace the furnace at the cost of $14,500."
They were on a payment plan while they fixed the problem, but just last week, Consumers Energy said they wanted their money by Dec. 12, or the restaurant would be shut down That bill and shut-off notice totals more than $40,000.
"It was sleepless nights," Mike said, "and it's been sleepless nights for a few months."
Mike's parents helped so they wouldn't be shut off through January, but now they are on another payment plan that is broken up over a 12-month period.
"So we're looking at nearly $7,800 every month for a year," said Mike.
"I just don't understand why they want their money back so quickly all of a sudden," he added. "This could put me out of business, and they're not going to get their money any faster doing that."
To help them stay afloat, they've set up a GoFundMe page.
"It's a little embarassing to be honest, you know, because I've never had to ask for help like this," Mike said. "And maybe some of it's my fault because didn't look at it."
"I think it's a great thing," said Matt Hammel. "And there should be more kind, neighborly things like that going on to help each other get by."
"I'm not a heater guy, so I had somebody come in and look at everything and help fire up the furnace when we first opened," he added.
We reached out to Consumers Energy regarding this situation. They explained that because of customer privacy, they can't discuss specifics about a customer's situation, but did provide the following statement:
"Consumers Energy is prevented from discussing details about any customer's account or their participation in any particular programs. However, we will continue to work with all customers under any programs they are eligible for. We know many people are facing challenging times right now, and they count on us every day for the energy they need. If customers need help with their energy bills, we encourage them to seek assistance. They can call us at 1-800-477-5050 and a Consumers Energy team member would be happy to assist them."
"They're doing what they can do based on the rules that they have," Mike said. "And I understand that, and I'm not asking to not pay it, I just can't afford to in only a 12-month period."
The Ertners said this is something they never could have predicted, and they are asking for any possible help, especially to keep their doors open for local veterans.
"They feel safe here, and they love it," Mike said, with tears in his eyes. "Those are the guys that mean the most."
"The reason that I do it is because I have the freedom to," he added. "Without them, there's nothing."
"I want people to walk out of this place remembering the theme more than anything else," Mike said emotionally. "You really can't ask for anything more than that."
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