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Elk Grove Citizen

Restaurants Challenge Shutdowns

Dec 15, 2020 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner

Forum convenors and supporters faced a gathering of suffering merchants.

Restaurants Challenge Shutdowns [2 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Carmichael’s Milagro Centre last weekend provided a forum for restaurant, salon and small business owners proposing to defy COVID shutdown orders.

Food Industry veterans were among more than 60 supporters who shivered in the parking lot after their use of Milagro’s interior was nixed for safety reasons. Attendees’ overriding wish was to maintain safe protocols and doors open. Many felt their businesses were targeted without good reason.

Arcade realtor Lillian Fulton convened the rebel forum. Her activism was inspired by a restaurant employee who was forced to file for unemployment for the second time. “Businesses need to stand strong and we need to stand beside them,” said Fulton. “COVID closures should stop.  Let’s let everyone have a Christmas. America was founded on rebellion. So let’s rebel.”

Several restaurant owners spoke through tears. Representing the 70-year-old Spaghetti Factory chain, Christine Dariotis said her husband, owner George Dariotis, was fighting stage-four cancer and was now more stressed than at any time during his life in hospitality. “We’ve had to let go employees who’ve been with us for 30 years,” she explained. “For us, the emotional pain is as hard as the financial toll.”

Carmichael’s Bella Brew Café owner Liz Mishler lamented the expense of staying in business. “We’ve spent so much on partitioning, and propane heaters so people can eat outside,” she explained. “We’re constantly sanitizing. If there are COVID spikes, it’s not because people eat inside, at 25 percent of restaurant capacity.”

Restaurateur Michael Donoho worked 16-hour shifts to build up three Waffle Experience restaurants. His company has laid off 120 employees. He and company executives now work without salary and take unemployment checks. “My employees are terrified,” Donoho said. “There’s no hope in sight for them. The State can’t keep shutting us down with no plan of action. Restaurants are clean by their very nature. Our inside air is changed up to 20 times per hour. Sanitizing is bred into our culture. We are not the disease spreaders. I refuse to close my restaurants; this might make me a target, but I’m asking you all to stand beside me.”

Michael Helmrich recalled his Taiwanese immigrant parents’ struggle to establish their Mandarin Restaurant in the 1980s. “They broke their backs,” he said. “Now everything they achieved is being taken away. I’m glad they’re not able to see what we’re going through.

“But I’m staying open,” Helmrich said to applause.  “We’ll get through this.”

Salon veteran Michael Kendrick spoke for hairdressers and manicurists: “If Governor Gavin Newsom can still get a haircut and a paycheck, so should we,” he declared. “Protocols that we’re following work. We need to open our doors and save our as--s.”

Sacramento Board of Supervisors chair Sue Frost was cheered as she encouraged merchants to fight for survival. “Are we prolonging COVID spread by locking it down?” she asked. Objections to proposing County fines on rebel businesses have totaled more than 3000 e-mails and 85 phone calls, she said.  The supervisor announced a January 8-10 “Reopen California Now” conference. Assembling state policy makers at Rancho Murieta, the forum will be live-streamed all across USA. “I’m calling it an event,” said Frost.  But it’s really more of a movement.”

Gold River attorney Keith Dunnigan praised small businesses as California’s lifeblood. “Our State government will figure that out in a year,” he predicted, “when they see our economy stripped by a lack of tax revenue. Relief isn’t coming fast enough for people needing help today.” The lawyer advised merchants to build relationships with landlords. “Chances are they’re struggling, too,” he said. “It’s a good time to talk about minimizing rents and extending leases.”

Should authorities come pounding on rebel business doors, Dunnigan encouraged scrutiny of their legal procedures. “The Federal Government isn’t allowed to summarily do things without due process,” he said.  “You have the right to take them to task. And one thing the Governor Newsom must learn is that he’s not allowed to make regulations that are arbitrary and capricious.”

*Anyone may attend a 12:30 pm meeting supporting beleaguered businesses at the Waffle Experience 13405 Folsom Boulevard (Folsom) on December 23.

*Learn about activist Lillian Fulton’s campaign to assist merchants at 

*Details of the January 8-10 Rancho Murieta event are posted at