West Michigan restaurant reopens months after owner was jailed over COVID-19 rules

The doors at a western Michigan restaurant were open before sunrise as the owner welcomed diners for the first time since she spent four nights in jail for ignoring orders related to COVID-19.

READ: Pizzeria owner arrested for defying COVID, food rules

Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland had been closed since March. But Marlena Pavlos-Hackney has recovered her food license.

"She’s a hero," said Kris Simmons, one of the first customers to place a breakfast order Tuesday.

Pavlos-Hackney last winter allowed indoor dining, despite state and local prohibitions, and ignored other rules aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19. She said her customers’ health was up to them.

Michael Farage ordered steak and eggs Tuesday and offered a side dish of praise.

"She did this at a time when many restaurateurs wanted to do the same thing, but they were nervous," Farage told MLive.com. "And rightly so, you don’t want to get fined and you don’t want to get the cops surrounding your car. I get it. But she stood up and we’re very proud of her."

Read More: Pizzeria's food license restored after owner flouted COVID-19 restrictions

Pavlos-Hackney still believes her rights were violated. She is appealing a $15,000 fine that had to be paid before she could leave jail.

"It feels so good to see all my people, their smiling faces. This means a lot to me," she said.

Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who put Pavlos-Hackney in jail, said she had put the community at risk. Attorney General Dana Nessel said she had defied court orders and the local health department "at every turn."