Restaurants can train, start selling food, pantry items under new agreement

Few industries have been negatively affected by the coronavirus than restaurants.

Frank Shushtari owns two – Loccino Italian Grill & Bar in Troy and Wixom Station in Wixom – and he’s seen business drop in both. Loccino is open six days a week, but only from 4-8 p.m., and Wixom Station is only open Thursday through Saturday.

It’s one reason Shushtari would welcome the news that the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Michigan Department of Agriculture on Monday announced a partnership that will enable restaurants to sell food and pantry items, which currently can be sold only by grocery and retail stores.

Shushtari hadn’t heard anything official about the policy, and hasn’t yet been approached by customers for such sales, but he likes the thought, though he wonders if customers will reach out to restaurants for such purchases.

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “In this economy right now, I’m losing money every day. If there’s a profit there, I’d like to be able to get it. Anything will help, if people ask for it. But are people willing to buy it? I don’t know.”

Michigan’s restaurant industry, which already is trained in food safety and sanitation, only needed guidance on how to label food to conduct retail sales. Through this new partnership, restaurants can receive training on proper labeling so they can sell food and pantry items directly to consumers, which not only offers more options to Michigan consumers, but also keeps the supply chain moving in more directions.

“Michigan’s food and agriculture industry continues to demonstrate why it is considered one of the most diverse, innovative, and nimble in the nation,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “This partnership is yet another example of how our businesses and our state agencies have worked together to solve problems quickly, not only for the industry, but also for Michigan consumers.”

Department of Agriculture Director Gary McDowell said partnerships like this one “don’t happen by luck or by accident.”

“A state agency like MDARD is able to partner with private industry and an association like MRLA and make change quickly because of the relationships that have been built over decades,” McDowell said. “When Michigan distilleries say they can change their operations to make much-needed hand sanitizer, MDARD paves the regulatory road and gets out of the way. And when restaurants tell us they have excess food coming in that could be sold directly to consumers, we work with MRLA to help get that done.”

MRLA President/CEO Justin Winslow said the agreement could ease the burden on grocery stores overwhelmed by “unprecedented” demand.

“Michigan restaurants are facing the COVID-19 crisis head-on and ensuring Michiganders have access to safe food,” Winslow said. The food supply chain for the restaurant industry is vetted, reliable and a great resource to supplement traditional grocery stores.

“Having restaurants sell typical grocery items will help support the extremely taxed grocery stores and provide customers with access to the essential food supplies they need,” he added.

The MRLA has provided the guidance documents on its website for all industry members seeking to provide support to the grocery stores. For access to the documents, visit Foodservice operations can find free ServSafe food safety training specific to take-out and delivery services that provides specific resources for keeping food safe amidst the Coronavirus outbreak.