A Michigan coffee shop owner and single mom is fighting for her right to earn a living as the state government fines her $1,000 a day for keeping her business open in defiance of state coronavirus restrictions.
Amy Heikkinen, the owner of Café Rosetta in Calumet, is struggling to provide for herself and her 30 employees as she faces $40,000 in fines from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for refusing to comply with lockdown orders banning indoor dining.
A divorced mother of six children, Heikkinen refuses to pay her fines. She told Fox News in an interview Sunday that she's been forced to fight back against the state or risk losing her business forever.
"It's about survival at this point," Heikkinen explained.
She said she's hired attorney David Kallman to represent her as she challenges the state's fines in court. Kallman has represented other Michigan businesses fighting against the state lockdown policies, including barbershop owner Karl Manke, who became famous for refusing to comply with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order to close hair salons.
For Heikkinen, this fight is about her rights under the Constitution.
"Does the Constitution exist any more? That's the question. We need to survive, we need to pay our bills, we need to live. We have 30 employees who are more than willing to do that," she said.
Heikkinen's story shows that the American dream is still achievable for anyone willing to work hard for it. In 2013, she was recently divorced and living on welfare, with six kids to care for. But opportunity came when she began baking for the café that she now co-owns with her brother, WLUC reports.
"We started pretty small, three employees. I've always loved baking and wanted to see if I could make my dream come true of owning a bakery someday," she told Fox News. "You know, I had to walk to work sometimes, ride a bike. My kids helped out in the kitchen, and slowly, slowly we kept growing and expanded."
Her beginning was small, but with hard work, her business was able to move a few doors down the street to a bigger venue and double the amount of seating it could provide to customers.
"We went from three to 30 employees, and it's been wonderful," Heikkinen said.
But for Heikkinen, like so many other American business owners, the government response to coronavirus pandemic threatens to destroy everything she's worked for.
After complying with Michigan's first executive order closing indoor dining from March until the beginning of June, Heikkinen told WLUC she lost 30% of her sales revenue. When Gov. Whitmer announced the second ban on indoor dining on Nov. 18, she knew that compliance meant the end of her café and jobs lost for her 30 employees.
"There's no pausing at this point ten months into it," she said. "If we did close at that point, or only offer take-out, our business would be destroyed."
Again, she's not alone. A recent survey conducted by the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) found that 33% of Michigan restaurant operators say it is unlikely they will still be in business in six months. Additionally, 89% of Michigan restaurant operators expect to lose sales revenue over the next three months, and 63% believe they will be forced to lay off employees over that period.
"The data is settled," said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA. "It is fundamentally clear that the pandemic is decimating the hospitality industry in this state to a degree never seen or even imagined."
Café Rosetta is located in Houghton County, Michigan, where 1,532 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 23 people have died from causes related to COVID since March.
Heikkinen said her business performs all of the "commonsense safety measures" like wearing gloves, cleaning in between serving customers, and enforcing social distancing measures. Because of health issues, she cannot wear a mask and she does not force her employees or her customers to do so.
"We live in a very small town, you're talking about minimal risk, I believe, by serving the community," she told Fox News.