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How Michigan bars, restaurants navigated a year of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions

COVID-19 forced many businesses to shift operations and adapt. Restaurants and bars are one industry hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

On March 16, 2020, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that restaurants would only be allowed to offer carryout. 

Some restaurants that never had takeout scrambled to begin offering it, while other eateries temporarily shuttered.

One year into the pandemic and bars and restaurants have been through a slew of changes and financial struggles as they tried to pay their bills while operating in limited capacities.

“The government, they did not protect us, the businesses, from the landlord, from DTE, from the debt, from no one,” said George Gize, with Assaggi in Ferndale. “How can you survive?”

While some restaurants battled with rent costs, some landlords stepped up to help struggling eateries that were not allowed to serve meals inside.

“He took care of the rent and the second time around, he gave us a break,” said Patrick Peteet, who owns Peteet’s Famous Cheesecakes in Oak Park.

The cheesecake restaurant also wholesales to restaurants that began doing carry out, something that helped the business stay afloat.

After the carryout mandate, outdoor dining and reduced capacity dining were allowed when it got warmer outside. However, indoor dining would be prohibited several times throughout 2020. 

Currently, restaurants and bars are allowed to operate at 50{431c92db2ef93c421a350be785d244bd702e2c73a34f2b6f60cd8fd62b61507d} capacity with a curfew of 11 p.m.

READ: A timeline of COVID-19 restriction changes

“Had to develop something called curbside, that we knew nothing about, and it saved us,” said Patty Melton, the manager of the original Buddy’s Pizza location in Detroit.

The manager of Buddy’s Pizza credits curbside for saving the business.

According to the Restaurant Association, about 3,000 Michigan restaurants ended up closing for good because of the pandemic.

“Everybody’s situation’s different. We opened a brand new restaurant in the middle of COVID,” said Chef Johnny Prep, who COVID was the reason Mr. B’s in Royal Oak closed but took on a new endeavor. 

Alchemi, an upscale eatery, was opened in the midst of the pandemic. Prep said if people spend 1/3 of what they did at his speakeasy, the math works out for the business.

As the one-year anniversary of the COVID pandemic nears, one thing is clear — restaurants are about more than just food. Eatery owners reflected on how these establishments provide a place for people to enjoy their time and have conversations with others. 

“I don’t think it will ever be the same,” said Paul, of Brayz Hamburgers in Hazel Park.