Crystal Douglas, a server at Haney’s Family Restaurant, said she was happy to be out of the house and back working as customers returned for limited indoor dining.

Crystal Douglas, a server at Haney’s Family Restaurant, said she was happy to be out of the house and back working as customers returned for limited indoor dining.

Photo by Brian Louwers


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Limited indoor dining at bars, restaurants welcomed by owners, employees and patrons

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 6, 2021

 Steve Alanis, owner, and Beau Johnson, general manager of Vivio’s Warren, said customer loyalty helped them to stay open during the state’s restrictions on indoor dining. “Never give up. Just keep trying, and whatever we have to do to make our customers happy, we’re doing it,” Alanis said.

Steve Alanis, owner, and Beau Johnson, general manager of Vivio’s Warren, said customer loyalty helped them to stay open during the state’s restrictions on indoor dining. “Never give up. Just keep trying, and whatever we have to do to make our customers happy, we’re doing it,” Alanis said.

Photo by Brian Louwers

CENTER LINE/WARREN — On Feb. 1, Michigan’s bars and restaurants welcomed patrons back to limited indoor dining for the first time since state officials shut it down in November.

Even through the masks, you could sense the smiles from owners, employees and diners as they breathed cautiously optimistic sighs of relief.

“It’s nice seeing people in the building again. We’re measured exactly 6 feet apart. Make the best of it,” said Steve Alanis, owner of Vivio’s Warren on 12 Mile Road, just west of Ryan Road. “It’s been rough. It’s been really rough.”

Beau Johnson, the general manager of Vivio’s, said the restaurant closed completely during the initial shutdown last year but that the ownership and management made a commitment to keep going. That meant getting creative and doing what they needed to do to stay open. Both Alanis and Johnson are Marines.  

“We started doing produce boxes for people,” Johnson said. “They didn’t want to go to the grocery store. It started off really well. We’d pack it up and deliver it to them curbside.”

To help their customers weather the storm, Vivio’s offered things people wanted or needed in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown.

“We’ve done everything from selling toilet paper to trash bags, pizza kits, steak kits, burger kits, chips and salsa. We’ve literally sold everything: ketchups, mustards, hot sauce,” Alanis said.  

There came a time during the first shutdown when Alanis couldn’t write any more checks. He said the business qualified for a loan through the Small Business Administration.

“All of our employees got paid for the most part, the ones that were here, and struggled through it, but we got through it and we’re still getting through it,” Alanis said.

Thankfully, the carryout business stayed steady, and the state eventually lifted the ban to permit indoor dining at 50% capacity.

But patios and tents became lifeboats for businesses like Vivio’s looking to stay afloat when the state again put the brakes on indoor dining in November. Alanis said he went to Gaylord for tents and decided to use their “last few bucks” to buy them instead of renting them at the start of the second shutdown because he didn’t know how long it was going to last.

“I drove to Richmond, Imlay City and Port Huron to find heaters to put in our tents. Every day we go fill up eight to 10 tanks of propane. Every day for the last 75 or 80 days,” he said.

As hard as the uncertainty and the transition has been for management and staff, Johnson credited the customers at Vivio’s for keeping the restaurant going.

“We have a good core of regular customers and the community spirit to help us out,” he said.  

A customer who asked to only be identified as Jim said he felt safe eating lunch there.

“I think they have good controls in place. Just looking around, obviously they have no bar seating, which is a good thing. They’ve got 6 feet between the tables. They’re being pretty strict about letting people in based on availability, so I have no concerns about that,” he said. “It’s nice to support something small. If the big box stores are open and everything else, then why can’t I come here and eat?”

At Haney’s Family Restaurant on Van Dyke Avenue south of 10 Mile Road in Center Line, owner Russ Haney said he closed the business for about 2 1/2 months during the first shutdown. He said they started carryout service when he sensed the state was getting closer to lifting the first indoor dining ban.

“It ended up being a couple of weeks, and then, just to get me and my restaurant ready, back running, my employees getting used to working again, that worked out real well,” Haney said. “And then we were ready when she let us reopen.”

Haney’s reopened for indoor dining last summer at 50% capacity, according to state guidelines, and stayed open for carryout service throughout the second shutdown.

“It was much better than I thought it was going to be, although it was still nothing like where I was,” Haney said. “But it was better than I thought. We were down 60%-70%, yeah.”

Haney said most customers were very generous with their gratuity. Server Crystal Douglas agreed. She’s worked at Haney’s for almost three years.

“Our customers here are really good. They tip really well, especially now during the pandemic,” Douglas said. “Yesterday (Feb. 2) was my first day back, and I was so excited about being back to work. I got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and I didn’t have to be here until 7:30.

“It’s weird, not being able to… Some of our customers like to sit and talk and visit with us for a little while. It’s just really strange to see how we can’t seat like we should be able to,” Douglas said. “And to get out of the house.”

Haney said business was solid when indoor dining at his restaurant resumed on Feb.1 at 25% capacity, the new limit set by the state for now. He said the restaurant enabled online ordering during the indoor dining ban and that it would continue going forward for those still wishing to order carryout.

Perhaps that’s a silver lining that will boost business through what everyone hopes will be better days to come.

“Monday (Feb. 1) was great. We had a very busy day,” Haney said. “We were steady all day. The customers were very excited to be back eating out again. And yesterday we had a very good day again, and I actually had to tell people, you have to wait over here on the 25%. But they did. They understand, and when a table left, we would seat them.

“People are happy to be back out,” Haney said. “This is part of our life. Normalcy.”

He added, “I’m excited to be back. I’m thankful to be back. The carryouts were just a slow drain on the cash flow. I can’t wait until we can go back to 50%. I can’t wait until this is just over and we don’t have to wear masks, and life is going to be where we were. That’s what everybody wants. It’s been hard on everybody. Not just us.”