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Café Rosetta owner says jail threat won’t deter her

Friday morning, with the snow blowing outside, it was a quiet scene at Calumet’s Café Rosetta, contrasting with the turbulent legal situation the establishment finds itself in. Co-owner Amy Heikkinen spoke with Keweenaw Report over a breakfast burrito. She is the manager of the operation, in business with her brother.

The scene looked like many that could be found in Wisconsin. The tables pulled apart so that, with one exception, there was proper social distancing between chairs. No one wore a mask, nor showed signs of being in anything other than perfect health. Heikkinen says contact tracing has never pinned a case as having originated from Café Rosetta.

An attorney for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) argued Thursday in Ingham County’s 30th Circuit Court that civil fines had so far not persuaded the café from ceasing operations. Rosetta paid the $7,500 levy within days of receiving it. Before that, MDARD undercover agents had ordered lunch at Rosetta in late December, using that experience to obtain a temporary restraining order against it.

MDARD said it is prepared to consider criminal action against Heikkinen if Café Rosetta does not cease operations for at least 15 days. Judge Wanda Stokes agreed, telling the cafe’s attorney, David Kallman, that even if the café follows the current orders to a tee, they cannot be open since their business license has been revoked.

Heikkinen says she feels this is an important stand to make. She points to other states across the country where life has mostly returned to normal, without uncontrolled COVID-19 chaos. Heikkinen wants the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to make its case for why living in Michigan is so much more dangerous than Florida, or neighbors like Wisconsin and Indiana.

She points to high school sports. When an organization filed suit on behalf of the MHSAA, the government relented, with restrictions, rather than provide evidence that justified the ban.

For restaurants, legal challenges have not been successful, but Heikkinen says the issue is the same.

That’s what we’re asking for. We’re asking for transparency in that why it is more risky to do this than pulling slots in a casino or shopping at Walmart. It just doesn’t make any sense.

She says that restaurants which have rigidly complied, aren’t being rewarded for obeying. In her opinion, operating at 25% capacity will just mean a slow death, rather than a fast one. 

Heikkinen says that her position is its own separate issue. It shouldn’t be tied into other political theatre or made a part of a narrative surrounding last month’s protest at the US Capitol. She said she has consulted only with her friends and family to make her decision, but will not back down. Soft spoken, Heikkinen is not who you would suspect to be in the center of controversy. Still, with national attention, she says she is ready to go to prison if need be.

It’s, I believe, a constitutional issue to be able to work and provide for my family and not asking the government to do that for me, and to have a great opportunity here. Part of the MDHHS order and the MCL law is jail time, so that’s a risk that I have assumed this whole time.

Cafe Rosetta is appealing the loss of its license. MDARD has not provided any timetable for resolution. Friday morning makes clear that Judge Stokes’ order is not going to change operations at Café Rosetta.

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