HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A group rallied Saturday to support a Holland restaurant owner who was jailed after ignoring the state’s most recent dine-in ban and subsequent suspension of her license.
The event started with a drive from Walker to the restaurant, Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria on Lincoln Avenue near US-31. Once there, hundreds of supporters held a rally outside the business, flying American flags and holding signs. The majority of attendees were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
“I think it’s one of the most important things we can do as freedom-loving Americans,” Audra Johnson of Grand Rapids, who was part of the crowd, said. “We can show our voice in support of a woman who absolutely deserves better than what she’s getting.”
Many felt like the restaurant owner, Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, was being used to set an example.
“To me, it’s about corrupt courts, corrupt judges and government overreach,” fellow demonstrator Holly Dolph of Rockford said. “They’re using it as an excuse to go after a vulnerable person. She was a woman… They went after her because it was easy.”
She said she wasn’t worried about Pavlos-Hackney allowing her restaurant to be full while people were not wearing masks.
“I don’t think she feels that she’s above anybody, but she’s take a stand and I can appreciate that,” demonstrator Bill Bolin said.
He came all the way from Brighton — a two-hour drive — to attend the rally.
“There are a lot of Michiganders who do not want the governmental interference that we’re facing with Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer and Attorney General (Dana) Nessel,” he said.
A bench warrant was issued for Pavlos-Hackney March 4, by which point her food license had been suspended for more than a month but her restaurant was still open. After she refused to turn herself in, she was arrested Friday. An Ingham County judge told her that she would stay behind bars until she proves that she has closed her restaurant.
“Should the restaurant open up again, there will be another bench warrant issued immediately, another pickup order, 93 days (in jail) and $7,500 (in fines),” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who made a name for herself while presiding over the 2018 sentencing of Larry Nassar, told Pavlos-Hackney. “I don’t know how long you want to do this, ma’am, but we can keep doing it all year long. You must abide by the law.”
In response, Pavlos-Hackney’s supporters on Friday boarded up her restaurant, put closed signs on the windows and surrounded it in caution tape in an effort to make it abundantly clear that it was closed.
Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney told News 8 he hopes to file a motion to get his client released as early as Monday.
As recently as Thursday, Marlena’s Bistro was bustling with business, with neither customers nor staff wearing masks or observing social distance, and Pavlos-Hackney was serving customers. She has argued she has a right to run her business as she sees fit.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office is prosecuting her, disagrees, saying Pavlos-Hackney must follow public safety rules. While the COVID-19 mitigation measures are the most poignant right now, Nessel previously told News 8 that the case is about more than that.
“We have so many regulations on food safety and the health and safety or restaurants and it’s incredibly important. What if we disregarded all other rules that kept us safe from things like salmonella or other types of issues that could seriously impact our health?” Nessel said in a March 6 Zoom call. “We want restaurants to comply because we want to make safe that we’re safe when we eat in those places.”
On Friday, Judge Aquilina did not seem sympathetic to Pavlos-Hackney’s point of view.
“This is the wrong way to get publicity, it’s the wrong way to be a good citizen, it’s the wrong way to assist the public in a pandemic. We do not violate the law,” Aquilina told her.
—News 8’s Ruben Juarez contributed to this report.