DELTON, Mich. (WOOD) — A Barry County restaurant that opened early this year does more than serve food and drink.

It honors those who serve us all.

Heroes Food and Spirits, located at 121 S Grove Street in Delton, pays tribute to veterans by inviting local families to post pictures of their service members on a wall of honor.

But that wall — and Mike Ertner’s lifelong dream — is in jeopardy.

“I have a bill from Consumers Energy for $41,000,” said Mike Ertner, sitting at a table in his Delton restaurant.

“They want $4,000 per month. So they want that $41,000 over the next ten months, basically. Who’s got that? Being a small business, open 11 months. Who’s got it?” he said.

Heroes Food and Spirits in Delton pays tribute to veterans by inviting local families to post pictures of their service members on a wall of honor.
Heroes Food and Spirits in Delton pays tribute to veterans by inviting local families to post pictures of their service members on a wall of honor.

Mike Ertner said he and his wife, Shannon Ertner, had limited cash reserves when they opened their veterans-themed restaurant on Jan. 30 of this year.

In February, they noticed their natural gas bill was rising rapidly.

Mike Ertner had predicted natural gas would cost them around $2,500 per month, but by March, it had skyrocketed to $11,993.

“They did a pressure test in the building, so it was not leaking in the building,” he explained. “I had (Consumers) out twice, and we talked to them over the phone.”

But he said Consumers told him the problem was on his end, not the utility’s.

According to Mike Ertner, it was a restaurant customer who works in HVAC who ultimately helped diagnose the problem.

The customer had smelled natural gas outside the restaurant and notified him.

“The heat exchangers were bad,” said Mike Ertner of his rooftop furnace. “They weren’t burning. … So that’s why you could smell it. It was just raw fuel being pumped out into the atmosphere.”

Mike Ertner said he was forced to buy a new rooftop furnace at $14,500.

Meanwhile, the Consumers’ debt meter was running.

Mike Ertner’s November bill showed the amount due as $48,793. 

“Do I blame Consumers 100%? No. Do I think they should have done more to figure out why my bill went from $1,500 one month to $11,000 the next? (Yes,)” he said.

Ertner said he’s on a payment plan and has been chipping away at the debt, paying $3,800 per month on top of the actual gas bill.

But the restaurant’s cash reserves, which were limited to start, have run out.

“This is something no one could have predicted, so we are asking/begging our family and friends to help us in any way they can,” wrote Shannon Ertner in the GoFundMe page the couple launched to offset the Consumers’ debt.  

“I borrowed the money to get me through till January,” reported Mike Ertner, noting that, come mid-January, Consumers will shut off the gas.  “So, our goal is to get that ($41,000) paid. Or even just half of it.”

In a statement to News 8, Consumers Energy said customer privacy rules prevent it from discussing specific accounts. 

“Consumers Energy is prevented from discussing details about any customer’s account or their participation in any particular programs. However, we will continue to work with all customers under any programs they are eligible for.  We know many people are facing challenging times right now, and they count on us every day for the energy they need. If customers need help with their energy bills, we encourage them to seek assistance. They can call us at 1-800-477-5050 and a Consumers Energy team member would be happy to assist them.”

Joshua Paciorek/Consumers Energy