Grand Rapids restaurant owners say police ran them out of business

1:49 PM, Oct 7, 2010   |    comments
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  • Chili Willi's
  • Chili Willi's

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Two local restaurant owners say they're out of business after being unlawfully shut down by a Grand Rapids police officer. The owners of Chili Willi's at Eastern and Burton say in late August the officer showed up and accused them of operating an illegal business despite evidence to the contrary, and now they want answers.

"It is amazing how things can come to an end just like that overnight," said Anthony Mills looking through the window of the now vacant building in the 2000 block of Eastern.  "I had a lot of dreams for the place.  You know it is just a little hot dog stand but we were at the time trying to look at another place to open another one.  The name was catching on."

Outside looking in is not where Mills and his brother Willie thought they'd be five months after opening a new business called Chili Willi's.  But the brothers say their dreams were squashed one night in August when they got an unexpected visit from a Grand Rapids police officer.

"He closed me up and told me if I sold anything that I would go to jail," said Willie.

Mills says he was outside the business when he saw the officer pull up.  At first he thought he had come to to order some food.  But soon after escorting the officer inside, Mills says he told him to put his hands up, frisked him and began searching the restaurant without a warrant.

"My freezers, my refrigerators and everything and I asked him what are you looking for?  There was no alcohol there was no drugs there was no nothing," said Mills.

The officer did not find a city issued business license either and cited Mills for running an illegal establishment.  What the officer didn't know is businesses like Chili Willie's don't need one.

Shawn Rabidoux a patron and worker at the post office next door says the situation "smells."

"He was busting his butt, you know in a bad economy trying to start up a business and I commend him for trying to do it legit," said Rabidoux.  "They shut him down improperly that is a shame.  He didn't need any help failing.  We can fail on our own.  We don't need the government messing up."

Mills could have faced 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Willie Mills went to his September 9th arraignment with his health inspection and state licences hoping the judge would drop the case and allow them to reopen.  He was disappointed at what happened.

"I appeared in court and what they wouldn't even listen to me.  They said guilty or not guilty and I'm telling them I have all the business licenses right here will you please help me.  We need to squash this.  This is ridiculous because I'm losing my business right now.  If I don't sell any food my business is going down," he said.

He had another court date set for the 28th but once the city clerk's office caught the mistake she advised prosecutors to drop the charge.  By then it was too late.  The mistake had already cost the brothers everything.

"When this happened they shut us down for a month.  And a week or two weeks until the court stuff was over and then it was too late.  It just snowballed and I had to shut the doors, said Anthony Mills.

He says he is now out of the $8,000 he borrowed from his 401-k to start the business and in debt to his landlord and for other expenses.

"Right now I'm probably looking at $25,000," he said.  "I'm even looking at what I might have earned in the future because the place I know it would have grown.  I wouldn't have gotten rich overnight but I wasn't planning on closing it."

He says if he ever gets a chance to open another business it won't be in Grand Rapids.

"I wanted the police presence.  I invited them to come and eat and then to do this to me you know I feel betrayed myself," said Mills.

WZZM 13 News contacted the Grand Rapids Police Department Tuesday and Wednesday to get comment on this story.  Spokesperson Lt. Ralph Mason says they are looking into it and will get back with us.

By Angela Cunningham

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