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Jonesville restaurant owner slapped with $11K in fines for defying state health orders

Posted at 7:00 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 20:09:10-05

JONESVILLE, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has slapped a Jonesville restaurant with $11,000 in fines for allegedly allowing patrons to eat inside in violation of state orders temporarily barring indoor dining.

Spangler's Family Restaurant, which has been in Mitch Spangler's family for 25 years, is everything to him.

"It was either bankruptcy or reopen," said Spangler. "My 78-year-old mom relies on the income that comes from here because I bought the business from her, I have a daughter in college, I employ 25 to 30 people who were not going to have Christmas if we didn’t have an income.”

So, he made the decision to stay open.

“To me it was about taking care of people and there was not any documentation that showed transmission from our restaurant or other restaurants for COVID that we were going to be imminently endangering other lives," said Spangler.

Health officials have long said that prohibiting gatherings in restaurants would help mitigate the spread of coronavirus and there is evidence that the temporary shutdown, ordered in November by state Health Director Robert Gordon, is working.

Documents from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services say the local health department observed guests gathering indoors at Spangler's nine times between Nov. 28 and Dec. 7. Each instance resulted in a fine of at least $1,000.

Now he faces an even bigger issue.

His food service license was suspended on Thursday by the state. He is in the process of appealing that with his lawyers.

"It’s all simply about surviving," Spangler said. "It’s not about a political statement. It’s not about the government. It’s about supporting a local community and families ...and people.”

His revenue took a huge hit during the first shut down in March. This time around, things got starker once other states began allowing restaurants to open for business.

“We had dropped to 15 percent of normal revenue because we’re close to the state line," said Spangler. "And multiple people told me, ‘We’re not going to do takeout...we’re going to cross the border and go where we can sit down and eat.' And, that’s what they’ve done and that’s what they’re still doing.”

COVID-19 cases are declining because of the orders, state health officials say, and restaurants such as Spangler's will be fined for violating the restrictions.

"Most restaurants and bars in the state have helped play a critical role in the decline in cases, positivity rate and hospital capacity in recent weeks by following the order," Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Lynn Sutfin said in a statement. "Unfortunately, some food establishments are not complying and have been fined for their violations, including Spangler’s. We look forward to the day when indoor food service can resume and again thank those bars and restaurants that are helping us contain the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan."

Spangler insists he can stay open safely and says he wants the people to have the choice to come to his restaurant or not.

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