Michigan catering companies and banquet halls still on hold for reopening for events and weddings

The Rebound Detroit
Posted at 6:25 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 18:30:09-05

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (WXYZ) — While restaurants have been given the green light, the state’s executive order still has banquet halls and events under strict guidelines - limiting indoor gatherings to just ten people.

“Before COVID, we were going pretty well. We were growing,” said Michael White from Souly for You Catering.

Despite being able to make the bacon, for this caterer, bringing home the bacon became a lot more difficult when the pandemic hit.

“We did a lot of commercial events and weddings,” said White. “So, when it hit, I was kinda like, now, what’s going to happen?”

With events canceled across the board, his traditional business took a dive, and they pivoted to making meals for the homeless shelter.

“You know, we had to adjust our game,” said White.

At 11 months in, thousands of Metro Detroit catering vendors are in the same boat as the state executive order remains, limiting indoor events & gatherings to just ten people.

“I have couples that have literally rebooked their wedding nine times, ten times,” said Mary Lou Penna from Penna’s of Sterling.

Perhaps no one is feeling the sting of that more than banquet hall operators.

“Frustrating, can we hold out for 6 months, we’ll can any company hold out for over a year, two years?” said Penna.

Today, Penna’s of Sterling and its sister hall, Villa Penna - a combined 75,000 square feet- are sitting virtually empty. The number of events they’ve lost is staggering.

“I would say in the 100’s,” said Penna.

The family-run establishment feeling the frustration.

“We have over 100 in staff that haven’t worked,” said Penna. We don’t understand why we are singled out.”

They're wondering why casinos and restaurants can operate at a larger capacity.

The Penna family did get a PPP loan that they say helped with utilities, but after considering taxes, payments to the liquor commission, and their food license- the losses are adding up.

In the State of Michigan, a staggering 3,000 banquet centers have already buckled.

The Penna family says it doesn’t plan to fall into that statistic.

But sadly, many others will.

“The season is upon us,” said Justin Winslow from The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association. “When Michigan stands to lose another full year of bookings."

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association says, in many cases, Michigan is losing event bookings to neighboring Indiana and Ohio, states that have had less restrictive rules on gathering.

With restaurants now at 25% capacity, the MRLA is making arguments for why event operators should be treated the same.

“All of these events are predetermined; they have a guest list. It’s known in advance. It makes contact tracing even easier,” added Winslow.

The group is also pushing elected officials for a reopening timeline.

“We need these types of concrete answers so they’re not living in a perpetual spin of tomorrows,” said Winslow.

Rather living in a place of hope that this once joyful space will be filled yet again.

The MRLA is also pushing the state to prioritize essential workers in the hospitality industry for a vaccine --- arguing that it’s one way of helping the catering and event industry more quickly make a comeback.

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