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 Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman issued an order June 4 allowing establishments to expand outdoor seating, including El Camino restaurant.

Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman issued an order June 4 allowing establishments to expand outdoor seating, including El Camino restaurant.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Keego Harbor mayor issues order allowing outdoor expansion for dining establishments

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 18, 2020

 El Camino assistant chef Korey Morrison, left, along with chef Jason Millross hold a tray of food.

El Camino assistant chef Korey Morrison, left, along with chef Jason Millross hold a tray of food.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 El Camino owner Brad Cousens sits outside of his establishment. Cousens said some customers came in weeping when the establishment reopened for carryout.

El Camino owner Brad Cousens sits outside of his establishment. Cousens said some customers came in weeping when the establishment reopened for carryout.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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KEEGO HARBOR — After local dining facilities faced some tough times in recent months, Keego Harbor Mayor Rob Kalman issued an order June 4 that could help provide relief.

Kalman’s order allows establishments to “safely expand their outdoor seating to compensate for lost inside seating.”

Despite restaurants being allowed to reopen after the Safer at Home executive order was rescinded by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, social distancing guidelines limit indoor seating for dining facilities.

A permit is required for expansion, but according to Kalman, “Our city planner will expedite the review.”

Kalman was anticipating the order to be finalized at a City Council meeting June 18, after press time.

He expects the restaurants that apply for the permit to reap the benefits.

“Largely, it’s an outdoor community,” Kalman said. “People like being outside here, and when restaurants in the area added outdoor seating, they (saw) an increase in activity.”

Brad Cousens is the owner of El Camino. He referred to Kalman as a “rock star” for his initiative to try to help establishments.

“He understands the importance of the small businesses. I think that it will be a lifeline for people,” Cousens said.

“When I reopened for carryout, I had customers coming up weeping they were so thrilled that we were back,” Cousens said. “The way that they were tipping for carryout food was mind-blowing. So, the sense of community as a whole, not just in Keego Harbor, but everywhere, (has) been overwhelming.”

Kalman said the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the local economy has been “challenging.”

“Restaurants, you can see they haven’t had the same activity,” he said. “Curbside pickup is not the same thing as when people are able to sit down inside the restaurant. There’s been a lot (of) salons that have been closed — barbershops and salons. So, it’s been tough on them, too. … I’m hopeful we’ll rebound.”

From Cousens’ perspective, what has made things more challenging for business owners was the federal government’s decision to add an extra $600 a week onto unemployment benefits that individuals receive from the state.

“Small businesses are getting killed, and restaurants in particular,” Cousens said. “I don’t think the feds helped us out a whole lot with that extra $600, because it’s difficult to ask people to come back to work for less money than they’re making to sit home on their couch, and I think all small businesses are really feeling that.”

With community events being supported by local businesses over the years, Kalman would like for residents to take their turn and support the businesses.

“I’m asking people to support our local businesses,” he said. “I thought this effort that we just put forth, expanding the outdoor dining, is a pretty simple way for us to help out.”

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