Face masks ‘optional’ at Big John Steak & Onion in Lansing

Three local shops ignore executive order on employee face masks

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FRIDAY, May 8 — Big John knows beef but apparently doesn’t know much about face masks.

Despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mandate that all employees wear face coverings, not a single employee at three Big John Steak & Onion restaurants in Lansing wore one yesterday afternoon. Calls to corporate were not returned, but managers said masks there are optional.

That doesn’t exactly align with a recent mandate from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office.

“Right now, we have it optional,” explained a manager at the Big John along South Cedar Street. “They’re supplied to everyone, but it’s up to the employees. Everyone has a different interpretation of these orders and the way they’re supposed to work. Here, it’s optional.”

Whitmer signed an executive order earlier this month requiring customers and employees inside restaurants — among other food-selling establishments — to wear face coverings until May 29. And unlike prior orders that waive criminal penalties for violations, the order for grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and convenience store employees doesn’t carry that same exemption.

The extension also clearly requires checkout employees, like those tending drive-thru windows, to wear a form of covering over their nose and mouth as long as they can “medically tolerate” it. Businesses must also adopt social distancing measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A willful violation is a misdemeanor, though state Attorney General Dana Nessel has advised the Lansing Police Department — the sole arbiters of the mask orders in the city — to start out with warnings, use discretion before ticketing, and consider any failed efforts to secure masks.

No employees were seen wearing masks at the restaurant along Saginaw Highway this week, but three employees still crowded within inches of each other at the drive-thru window, handing out sandwiches and drinks with ungloved hands.

At the Frandor location, neither of two employees inside the store wore masks. There were no customers at the time. That location has no drive-through. An employee at the Frandor shop directed City Pulse to leave after we raised questions about the policy.

“Some of them wear a mask. It depends on if they’re comfortable with it,” said a manager at the Big John on Lansing’s west side. “Employees are tested and do a health screening and things like that, but some people just take them off periodically. It’s a big change for our staff here.”

Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail also affirmed that employees at those restaurants — especially those at the drive-thru window — are legally obligated to wear face coverings.

A spokesman for the Lansing Police Department said enforcement is driven largely by individual complaints. None have been filed about Big John Steak & Onion. If one is received, a verbal warning will precede any type of request for formal charges at the county Prosecutor's Office.

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