A single mother of six children in Michigan is facing daily $1,000 fines for keeping her cafe open in violation of a lockdown order issued by Michigan’s health department last month.
Amy Heikkinen, who owns Café Rosetta in Calumet, Michigan near Lake Superior, has been fined $1,000 a day since November 15, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order requiring restaurants to once again suspend indoor dining. Michigan restaurants are currently only permitted to provide outdoor dining, take-out, and delivery.
Heikkinen, whose livelihood depends on her small cafe’s business, opted not to shut down indoor dining, prompting the government to take action against her. She employs about 30 people, and outdoor dining is not feasible since her northern Michigan town has snow on the ground.
The mom and entrepreneur, who bought the cafe in 2011 after a divorce, said she figured that after a difficult year of lockdown restrictions, “either I’m going to close because I’m going to run out of money and business, or I’m going to close because they’re going to force me to close, so I might as well open and go down with a fight instead of submitting to suicide.”
The state served Heikkinen a cease and desist order and suspended her restaurant license. She went to court over the regulatory actions against her last week, but a ruling has yet to been issued. Meanwhile, the health department began imposing the staggering daily fines on Heikkinen. A court date has not yet been set to weigh the cafe owner’s objection to the fines.
“Trying to get into the court, trying to fight this and get a decision on it has been impossible,” she said in an interview with National Review. “I suspect they’ll drag it out as long as they can.”
“We went from a thriving business to barely surviving,” Heikkinen said. “It’s not sustainable. Essentially what it is is a destruction of the restaurant industry. You could call it a slow death.”
Complicating her situation further, Heikkinen says that she cannot wear a face mask due to a thyroid condition and has a doctor’s letter confirming that she has a medical exemption from mask-wearing. The government informed her that she cannot work in food service if she is unable to wear a mask.
“Telling me that I can’t work in food service means that I don’t matter,” Heikkinen said. “We need people to contribute to society, and I’m willing to do it, and I realize that it’s my responsibility to provide for my family. The government simply isn’t reliable to do that, and I’m not asking them to do that. I’m fully capable of doing that myself.”
While Heikkinen attempted to follow the social distancing and health precautions required by the state, the minutia of the rules appeared to change from one day to the next, she said.
“What we were doing was compliant one day and non-compliant the next,” she said of the state’s health precautions such as spaced-out seating inside the cafe.
Erik Kiilunen, a Michigan small business owner and founder of the “All Business is Essential” campaign, spoke on behalf of Heikkinen, saying she is the “sweetest thing you’ve ever met” and “doesn’t want to fight anybody” but has no choice.
Heikkinen is not the first small business in Michigan to refuse compliance with the state’s strict lockdown measures. Her attorney, David Kallman, represented another Michigan small business owner with a similar case earlier this year. Karl Manke, a 78-year-old barber in Owosso, bucked Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s initial lockdown orders for non-essential businesses early in the pandemic. Manke reopened his shop in May, prompting the suspension of his barber’s license and two misdemeanor charges against him. His license was reinstated the next month, and the criminal charges against him were eventually dropped after a months-long legal battle.
At least six other Michigan businesses have been fined for offering indoor dining in violation of the November restrictions.
Her cafe has become busier since it has “gone rogue,” Heikkinen said, with customers flocking there to show their support of her decision to fight the coronavirus restrictions. Supporters from states all over the country have offered encouragement and donated to the fund for her legal fees.
“It comes down to just marching on,” she said. “I’m going to work every day, and thank God we have a demand for our business.”
“I’m an American, and me starting a business, someone like me, a single mom on welfare, who can start slowly and build a business to success, that’s the American dream,” she said. “I can’t believe it. It’s so wonderful and so great that I’ve been able to do that.”