Amy Heikken, the owner of Café Rosetta in Calumet, is refusing to pay multiple $1,000 fines for keeping her cafe open for indoor dining against state orders, and now she is facing legal challenges.
Erik Kiilunen, a Michigan small business owner who founded the "All Business is Essential" campaign to keep Michigan businesses open and afloat during the pandemic, spoke on behalf of Heikken.
"Amy's just got this sweet disposition. She doesn't want to fight anybody," Kiilunen told FOX Business of Heikken's legal battle with the state. "She doesn't want any of this."
Heikken founded the cafe in 2011 after a divorce.
"She was divorced nine years ago from a rough situation, she's got six kids, she was on welfare -- nowhere to go," Kiilunen said. "So this girl decides to pick herself up, her brother decides to help her -- they buy Café Rosetta. Now, Amy has a place to focus her energy positively. She loves baking. She's the sweetest thing you've ever met."
Café Rosetta employs 30 people, and with snow on the ground in Michigan, Heikken can't afford to close indoor dining, Kiilunen said. He added that she can't wear a mask in line with her doctor's orders due to a thyroid condition.
"So she stayed open and defied the mandate," Kiilunen said. "Now, she's getting harassed on a daily basis by our local health department led by Tanya Rule and being fined $1,000 a day for supporting a family of six and 30 employees."
Neither Rule, the environmental health director for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, nor Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office immediately responded to inquiries from FOX Business.
Locals have been trying to help support Heikken by visiting the cafe every day, including one customer who set up a fundraiser on the crowdfunding website GiveSendGo.com, Kiilunen said. He added that the fundraising campaign will help Heikken pay legal fees as she continues to fight the state.
Whitmer on Dec. 7 extended a three-week-long, statewide COVID-19 stay-at-home order for another 12 days amid a spike in cases in the state. The restrictions initially announced on Nov. 15 ban indoor dining and in-person learning until Dec. 20.
"The goal of the Epidemic Order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly as it relates to indoor gatherings, which will, in turn, reduce the strain on our healthcare system and save lives," MDHHS Public Information Officer Lynn Suftin told Fox News in a statement. "Targeted and temporary closures that include restaurants have been part of successful strategies for containing COVID surges in Western Europe."
Sutfin added that other states are following a similar approach with support from leading public health experts.
"The order rests firmly on epidemic powers given to the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services after the Spanish Flu a century ago and closes indoor dining in restaurants, but not the restaurant itself. Restaurants can remain open for outdoor dining and carry out orders and we encourage all residents to support their favorite, local restaurants by ordering take-out or delivery," she added.
Sutfin said the MDHHS appreciates that "these restrictions are challenging for small businesses, and that’s why the Governor has called on Congress to pass targeted relief for bars and restaurants."
The state's high court in October denied Whitmer’s request to extend emergency powers in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, saying executive orders issued under the 1945 emergency powers law “are of no continuing legal effect."
Now, the Democratic governor is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services order to issue statewide restrictions.
"In recognition of the severe, widespread harm caused by epidemics, the Legislature has granted MDHHS specific authority, dating back a century, to address threats to the public health like those posed by COVID-19. [Michigan law] provides that '[i]f the director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose,'" Whitmer's stay-at-home order reads.
The Michigan Supreme Court in June sided with 77-year-old barber Karl Manke, who defied Whitmer's orders when he reopened his shop for business in May. Kiilunen said that if Heikken has to take her case to the Supreme Court, she will.
Michigan reported 7,205 new COVID-19 cases and 90 deaths on Monday.