WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WOOD) — Four days before a fire destroyed a landmark restaurant in White Cloud, one of the owners warned local police that somebody might try to burn it down, court records show.
On Thursday, that owner, Ryan Robinson, and his co-owner, David Robinson, were charged with arson in the March fire at Charlie’s Family Grill. Ryan Robinson also faces fraud charges. They could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Search warrant affidavits spell out some of the case against the two men.
Ryan Robinson had reported to a police officer that he was receiving threats to “burn sh– down,” which he believed meant his home and business.
Ryan Robinson asked the officer “to keep an eye on the business for him,” the search warrant states.
He told police the threats came from a man named James from Detroit, then said they came from a man named Michael from Grand Rapids.
According to the warrant, firefighters responding to the blaze suspected the fire was intentional almost immediately.
A window was broken out, with glass outside the building. They found two separate fires: one in the attic, the other in the basement.
When firefighters tried to get in, chairs were blocking a door, and once inside, equipment blocked the way into the kitchen.
Police later found surveillance video that showed two pickup trucks outside the restaurant shortly before the fire, with unidentified people appearing to load something into them.
As the pickups were leaving, the video shows smoke coming from the restaurant.
Records show the Robinsons owned similar pickup trucks.
Another video shows three figures leaving the restaurant about a half hour before the fire was reported.
Records also show that Ryan Robinson filed earlier insurance claims for fires: one that destroyed his garage, across the street from the Newaygo County jail, in February, and another that damaged their Charlie’s Family Grill in Fremont in October 2022.
The search warrants show that the Robinsons claimed that they were keeping new restaurant and catering equipment in the basement of Charlie’s in White Cloud. They didn’t “skimp” on anything, Ryan Robinson told police.
But police say they found “little to no” restaurant equipment, little to no condiments, little silverware and little to no kitchen cutlery. Police say they found 16 cents in the cash register.
The restaurant on the main drag through White Cloud had been there since at least the 1950s under different owners and under lots of different names — High Top Pizza, Cars, NoNos, Hitts the Spot.
“That was one of the original restaurants in White Cloud,” said Dan Abid, who owns Sally’s Whatta Pizza down the street. “It has a very long history.”
He said he wasn’t surprised at the charges.
“You could see that their business was dwindling there,” Abid said.
Now, Sally’s is the only full-service restaurant in this city of 1,400 people.
Raymond Cook, the owner of the burned-down building, told Target 8 the Robinsons were buying it from him on land contract and were behind in payments.
“There’s a lot of memories,” his daughter, LouAnne Cook, said. “Everyone’s got memories in that restaurant.”
She remembers closing down the bar in town when she was younger, then eating breakfast at the restaurant.
It’s not clear who will pay to clean up the mess. The rubble, surrounded by a chain-link fence, is piled where the restaurant once sat.
It’s one of the first things visitors see driving in from the south.
“It just looks nasty,” LouAnne Cook said. “I can see why everyone, they say that everyone around town’s been complaining because it’s just an eyesore sitting there.”
Police Chief Dan Evans refused to comment, other than to say that others could face charges in the case.