East Lansing Bar and Restaurant Owners Now Making Tough Choices

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Above: FieldHouse right when the Center City construction started, creating an earlier wave of serious economic challenges downtown.

“This decision comes after much consideration. While we have been going above and beyond the recommended guidelines, we believe now is to lead by example and be part of the effort to ‘flatten the curve.’”

Sam Usman Jr., manager of FieldHouse on Albert Avenue, made that statement this afternoon as part of his announcement that FieldHouse would be suspending dine-in service.

The announcement came a few hours after the Ingham County Health Department followed the lead of Oakland County and issued an order requiring that licensed food service establishments host no more than 50 percent of their normal approved occupancy levels.

The goal is to promote “social distancing” in the face of the coronavirus COVID-19. The Health Department order starts tomorrow (March 16) at 5 p.m. and runs through April 5, 2020 at 5 p.m. That’s roughly the same period during which the Governor has ordered K-12 schools closed throughout the state and the period during which East Lansing is under a state of emergency.

Usman and other restaurant and bar owners and managers tell ELi this situation is excruciating, as they have employees who rely on them for financial survival.

One owner told East Lansing on background yesterday, “I have single moms who will have no income if we can’t pay them.”

Usman said something similar: “While there have been an increasing number of vocal community members criticizing the bar/restaurant owners for staying open, it’s also important to remember that the wait staff, bartenders, cooks, etc. are members of the community as well. They rely on their job to pay bills, just like you. Many of them have families or are students paying their own rent and tuition.”

This morning, Mike Krueger of Crunchy’s responded by email to a request for comment about the possibility of imposing a 50 percent reduction on occupancy.

Said Krueger, “While we are certainly concerned how this type of ruling would affect the financial well-being of our 36 employees who are working diligently to make sure everything in our restaurant is clean and sanitary, we will certainly follow any new rules mandated by Ingham County Health Department, the governor, etc. The safety of our staff and patrons is of the utmost importance to us, and we wish to do our part in any way we can.”

Owners of The Peanut Barrel tweeted this morning that they were moving tables to put bigger spaces between people.

Managers of local establishments have been telling ELi they are working hard to make sure their employees all take extra precautions to get everything clean. Like the Peanut Barrel, some other businesses were taking proactive measures.

Writes Usman, “Leading up to this decision we took many precautionary measures in anticipation of large crowds the last few nights. Increased hand washing was stressed to all staff as well as more frequent sanitation of tables, chairs and bathrooms. Additionally, we restricted our crowd below our legal capacity, even calling in extra staff to allow our 2nd floor event space to be utilized for more ‘social distancing’.”

Not every East Lansing bar or restaurant is making statements about the importance of their social commitments. Some have stuck to trying to make the most of what is normally a very lucrative time of year.

But all will now have to heed the new Ingham County Health Department order.

Says City Manager George Lahanas, “While we understand that this order will have an impact on our businesses, we do think it is the prudent thing to do during this public health emergency in order to minimize gatherings and encourage social distancing, especially with Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations expected on Tuesday.”

The City stated today that it intends to use the police to enforce “all relevant party ordinances as well as blockages of sidewalks per the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code.”

The new order on top of MSU trying to get students to leave – all this will undoubtedly have a huge economic impact on local businesses that rely on students for income. Downtown businesses have suffered significantly from construction disruptions. And some, like Barrio Tacos, are only just opening and facing this serious challenge.

Barrio is based in Ohio, a state which has now decided – along with Illinois – to order the temporary closure of all restaurants and bars.

For now, at least, Michigan has not taken that step. People who want to help out the businesses effected can do so by ordering take-out, delivery, and catering.

Nigel Paneth, a physician and epidemiologist at Michigan State University, says that take-out and delivered food is unlikely to contribute to the spread of coronavirus because this disease is transmitted person-to-person chiefly through droplets.

“Take-out or delivery is much better than the interpersonal contact involved in being served in a restaurant,” said Paneth, who lives in the Glencairn neighborhood of East Lansing.

Take-out and delivery orders are what may keep some businesses in East Lansing from going under.

Update: On Monday, March 16, Governor Whitmer issued an order temporarily prohibiting dine-in service at all restaurants in Michigan. Take-out and delivery is still allowed.

Disclosure: A number of owners and managers of East Lansing bars and restaurants donate to ELi, including via the Responsible Hospitality Council. Crunchy’s sponsors ELi’s weekly mailer, and Krueger serves on our Community Advisory Board.

REMINDER: The City of East Lansing is under a State of Emergency and you are encouraged to practice social distancing. Read more about what the state of emergency means.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed

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