Small-business restaurants in Hillsdale are adopting new strategies amid new requirements announced this week by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a wide range of new restrictions on Nov. 15, including a temporary halt on indoor dining services in restaurants and bars, effective Nov. 18 through Dec. 8, according to the Detroit News.
Handmade owner Derek Spiteri said he finds the new orders, especially the suggestion for restaurants “to explore outdoor dining options,” to be a little insulting.
“It’s just not feasible,” Spiteri said. “People do not want to eat outside in November and the first week of December.”
Nevertheless, he said that his business is ready to move back to takeout due to his experience with the shutdown from earlier this year.
“We didn’t have to re-educate the customers on the process,” Spiteri said. “We were already built for takeout service. Everything we needed we had here.”
Despite this “seamless transition” back to takeout, Spiteri said he worries more about the volume of people wanting his services now that people are encouraged to work from home again.
“We’re predominantly a lunchtime spot,” he said. “If a lot of people are being required to work from home if they are able to, there will be fewer people in the downtown area during the lunch hour.”
At the Coffee Cup Diner owner Brandy Ervans, however, said it makes sense to shut down her business due to the ineffectiveness of takeout at her restaurant.
“It’s so unreliable,” Ervans said. “It costs me money to stay open.”
The Coffee Cup was just beginning to get back to normal profits during the fall month, Ervans said, when she was forced to close the diner during the week of Nov. 9 because she had a high fever. When her COVID-19 test came back negative, she intended to open up again, but then the Nov. 15 health restrictions came.
This time, Ervans said she is thinking about taking another paying job during the winter months to cover the utilities and opening back up in the spring.
“It’s going to be a better time of year,” she said. “I can still maintain the business and just reopen when this passes and we can have running operations as normal.”
Jilly Beans will continue its carry-out operation, but manager Becky Yoder said the business will be severely affected by the lack of dine-in capabilities, as at least 75% of its customers choose to use their indoor dining.
“We are going to lose a lot,” Yoder said. “But I think our locals will still come in and support us.”
Jilly Beans will try to reopen indoor dining as soon as the government allows, Yoder said.
On the other hand, the Filling Station Deli, which is predominantly a takeout business, should not lose much business, according to owner Cindy Bieszk.
Bieszk closed her indoor dining option during the first round of executive orders in March. With summer weather favoring outdoor dining, Bieszk said she only reopened it at the end of September when the weather started getting cool again.
Bieszk shut the dining space back down again when Gov. Whitmer mandated businesses to contact-trace their customers on Nov. 2. Bieszk said she will not open regular dining until contract-tracing is no longer required.
“It’s not worth it for my customers and I shut it back down,” she said. “It’s a bit of an intrusion.”
Nevertheless, restrictions on indoor dining have not hindered the business much, as indoor dining has only been an option at Filling Station for a year and a half, according to Bieszk.
“It was still about 60 – 70% takeout because that’s what customers were used to,” she said.
“I am in a unique position,” Bieszk said. “We were takeout-only for almost 29 years. My world did not change a whole lot. I’ve been fairly lucky to keep my normal.”
Spiteri said he encourages people to continue to support small businesses during this difficult time.
“Keep the local small businesses in mind as you are spending your dollars this holiday season. If we thought a lot of small businesses closed before, this will be the final nail in the coffin for a lot of places,” Spiteri said. “I think it means a lot more to small mom-and-pops than it does to giant corporations.”