GAYLORD — The Iron Pig Smokehouse was “very busy” Thursday night when a Record-Eagle reporter called the restaurant for comment just minutes after state regulators issued a press release that its liquor licenses were suspended.
“Risk it for the brisket — BBQ with a side of freedom,” a graphic on the restaurant’s Facebook page read.
The Michigan Liquor Control Commission issued an emergency suspension of the liquor licenses and permits held by Moore Murphy Hospitality, LLC, which does business as Iron Pig Smokehouse in Gaylord.
Effective, Wednesday, Dec. 2, the Michigan State Police press release said the MLCC suspended the businesses Class C liquor license, its Specially Designed Merchant (SDM) license, the restaurants Sunday Sales Permit (a.m. and p.m.) and Outdoor Service Permit.
The MLCC Enforcement Division said the restaurant has violated MDHHS’s Emergency Order to limit the spread of COVID-19 multiple times, which currently is set to expire Dec. 8. Those include: allowing non-residential, in-person gatherings; providing in-person dining; failure to require face coverings for staff and patrons; and failure to prohibit patrons from congregating.
According to the MLCC complaint attached to the press release, a state investigator, Bradley Szatkowski from the Enforcement Division, visited the businesses on Nov. 25 to follow up on a call from a concerned citizen he received saying that the restaurant remained open to indoor service while orders required it to close.
Szatkowski contacted a representative with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Scott Kendziersk. That call led to a Cease and Desist Order from the Health Department effective noon that day. Just one hour later, MLCC Investigator Ted Orm arrived at the business to find it still was open.
“Investigator Orm then contacted Ian Murphy, member of the Licensee,” the complaint reads. “Murphy told Orm that he would continue to serve indoors, despite the MDDHS Order and the Cease and Desist Order previously served on the Licensee by the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.”
The Gaylord Police Department followed up around 6 p.m., taking body camera footage of the restaurant during its dinner rush. Officer Stefan Crane also spoke to Murphy, who reiterated what he told Orm.
In a Facebook post Wednesday at 6:42 p.m., the day the MLCC release states the license was suspended, The Iron Pig Smokehouse said in a Facebook post “Iron Pig is staying OPEN. Be on the lookout tomorrow for an opportunity to show your support... #riskitforthebrisket.”
When a Record-Eagle reporter called The Iron Pig for comment Thursday, a manager on duty said they were not aware of the content in the press release, and that it was not true. They said the restaurant was doing business as usual — and was very busy — referring questions to Murphy.
Murphy did not return calls for comment.
Jennine Vogel, Public Information Officer with the MLCC, confirmed the licensee had been notified of its liquor license suspension and believed the notification was in-person.
Moore Murphy Hospitality, LLC is scheduled to appear before an Administrative Law Judge on Dec. 11 for a virtual hearing via Zoom, to determine whether its summary suspension should continue, or other fines and penalties should be imposed.
Five downstate businesses, cited between last week and Thursday, also are set to begin that same legal process Friday morning to determine any further sanctions. Vogel said any decisions can be appealed.
No hearings had been conducted before Friday, so there’s no precedent on what the judge will or will not order. Vogel said the Zoom hearing will be livestreamed on the MLCC’s YouTube channel.
In June, the appellate process ended up favoring Owosso Barber Karl Manke. An appeal spearheaded by Manke’s attorney, David Kallman, advanced all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which overturned a lower court’s decision. Manke garnered national attention throughout the process as a symbol for defying Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Orders.
The Supreme Court in October ruled Whitmer’s early Emergency Orders were illegally drawn from a 1945 law that didn’t apply.
Pfizer vaccine can be stored in northern Michigan
Days after Pfizer indicated its intent to apply for Emergency Use Authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy Director for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun on Tuesday said only 48 hospitals and 12 hospitals in Michigan had the ultra-cold freezers necessary to store the vaccine if approved that day.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s vaccine candidate — currently in production for global distribution in Kalamazoo — needs to be stored at minus 60 degrees Celsius, a temperature colder than the South Pole.
It appears two health agencies in the Traverse City area will be ready to receive Pfizer’s vaccine candidate if approved by the FDA.
Lisa Peacock of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department — which covers six northern Michigan Counties — said its facilities already have the freezers that now are in high demand.
“We did answer the inventory survey that our lab, the Northern Michigan Regional Lab, does have ultra cold storage,” Peacock said. “We have stood up and said we would be available to be one of those distribution sites.”
Peacock said the health department hasn’t gotten confirmation from MDHHS if it will be getting the first allocation of the vaccine, but won’t be surprised if it does. Peacock said a final answer from MDHHS is imminent.
Friday is the deadline for state health departments to request dosage and distribution locations to the Centers for Disease Control if and when Pfizer’s vaccine were approved by the FDA.
Whitmer reiterates no decision on possible three-week pause extension
There are five days left until Michigan’s three-week pause on indoor gatherings expires, but state officials are offering little to any hope of that happening.
Whitmer in a televised state press conference Thursday didn’t say whether or not MDHHS Director Robert Gordon’s epidemic order that targets indoor gatherings would be extended beyond its current expiration.
What she did say, however, was that cell phone mobility insights doctors have presented to her indicate residents of Michigan traveled for Thanksgiving and potentially contracted the coronavirus.
“At this juncture, everyone has to know that we are looking at the data every single day, trying to make decisions with the best information that we have” Whitmer said. “We also know that there’s a concerning amount of activity that happened around Thanksgiving, that we’ll make this month, and possibly next month with the advent Christmas, potentially spreading events, sadly.”
According to the Cubiq Mobility Traveler Insights Dashboard, there were just under a million people who traveled into Michigan in the last 14 days. However, the dashboard says 20 percent of those travelers “sheltered-in-place” within that two-week period, meaning they only moved 330-feet from their home location.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also presented the interim findings of the state’s COVID-19 taskforce on racial disparities.
“The work is not done,” Gilchrist said, who called his work on the taskforce ‘deeply personal.’ “This report recognizes the many continued challenges that vulnerable communities in our state face, and provides direction for even more action.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The worker at the restaurant referred comment to Ian Murphy.