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Andiamo owner reverses course on defying Michigan restaurant orders: ‘You’re going to get shut down’

Joe Vicari, owner of Andiamo restaurants in metro Detroit, is changing his tune just days after penning a letter to Michigan restaurant owners encouraging a group to come together and defy the state’s COVID-19 mandate to close indoor dining at restaurants.

Vicari invited restaurant owners to a meeting to discuss plans, but moved the gathering to Zoom because of how many people wanted to attend. The call hit the maximum amount of users of 100 before the meeting began.

“At the end of the day, I’m telling my fellow restauranteurs not to go against the ordinances because you’re going to get shut down, (and) it’s going to cost a lot more money than you want it to cost,” Vicari said on the call.

Reopening in defiance is a “losing situation,” Vicari said.

Instead, he’s asking restaurant owners for creative reopening ideas and polling owners about how dire their situation is because of the pandemic shutdown. Vicari plans to go to Lansing sometime this week in hopes of convincing state officials not to extend the dine-in ban beyond its current Dec. 8 deadline.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said an extension is “sadly possible because of the sheer volume of COVID,” during a Thursday new conference that was scheduled at the same time as Vicari’s meeting.

Vicari owns 22 restaurants in metro Detroit. He’s had to lay off 700 employees because of the latest shutdown and has about 80 people still working doing takeout orders.

Vicari’s restaurants received more than $2.8 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans this spring – loans which can be forgiven in many circumstances. Without financial support this time, some restaurant owners have said their business can’t survive without being open inside.

At Thursday’s Zoom meeting, Vicari quoted the 1976 film “Network” in his pre-recorded speech, saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

“And that’s how I felt when I wrote that letter last week,” Vicari said. “And I’ll tell you, I still feel that way today.”

Vicari said he was dissuaded against violating the shutdown orders after talking to lawyers about the potential consequences. Six Michigan restaurants have already had their liquor licenses suspended for defying the order and keeping indoor dining open.

Vicari had a pair of attorneys talk about reopening consequences during Thursday’s meeting, including Kelly Allen, a partner in the law firm of Adkison, Need, Allen & Rentrop, who specializes in liquor law.

“If you’re open, you’re open. It’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to beat (in court),” Allen said.

She’s handled a few similar cases. The liquor license is suspended, there’s a hearing and oftentimes, the judge issues an extension to the suspension and issues fines, Allen said. The suspension is also a black mark on the liquor license – similar to getting points on a driver’s license – she said.

“Something like this is not going to be looked at kindly in the future,” Allen said.

While Vicari has changed his approach, some from the restaurant industry in the comment section of the Zoom call were still ready to fight – including some people who wanted to sign a decree that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission will no longer be recognized by them as a governing body.

The idea wasn’t addressed during the call, as Vicari focused on finding a solution to boost the restaurant industry out of this “devastating” situation.

“Whether you have a coney island and you have 12 employee or you have 1,000 employees, it hurts,” Vicari said. “And we understand that.”

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