UPDATE: Ex-Harper’s workers allege racist, unhealthy practices

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 6:34 AM EDT
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub has received backlash online over being a center of a COVID-19 outbreak and now, there are new accusations.

Former staff members and customers have been sharing their experiences at the bar at 131 Albert St.

The accusations include racism and failing to properly clean the bar. Three former employees — all verified by News 10 — agreed to speak anonymously about their experiences working at the bar.

“All of the managers and both owners regularly use this phrase to describe Black people,” one person who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. “AKA, not East Lansing students.”

The phrase, according to the ex-worker, is “the Lansing crowd.” It’s meant to be a derogatory term for non-MSU Black students. Ex-Harper’s employees said they regularly heard it.

“When they noticed that Black people were ordering a lot of Patrón and Hennesy, they stopped selling it,” one said. “They tell the door guys to charge cover to Black people and if there’s a huge crowd of Black people in the front of the line, they’ll hold the line.”

The ex-workers said there were health and cleanliness problems as well. They claimed the owners told them to stop using cleaning supplies.

“Because it was destroying the tables and floors,” one ex-worker said. “So we would only use lemon juice or lime juice with ice water, which would attract more bugs and make all the surfaces very sticky.”

Another ex-worker said urine, vomit, and blood were all cleaned with that same solution, called ‘lemon water.'

The Ingham County Health Department said its inspections didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.

“What we know about the past is what we see in inspections when we were there,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said. “Had people had complaints like we’re seeing surfacing now, we could have investigated those at the time.”

News 10 called Harper’s owner Trisha Riley’s cell phone Thursday. Someone else picked up and said Riley was unavailable and would call back after speaking with her lawyers.

Friday, the owners released this statement about their appearance before the Michigan Liquor Control Commission Thursday, but it doesn’t address the ex-employees’ accusations:

“Harper’s thanks the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, Ingham County Health Department, East Lansing Police Department and our extended family for the opportunity to discuss this situation regarding our reopening in an open and candid form. COVID-19 is a silent, invisible thief, who enters your business while you’re looking and takes your health, your business and your reputation, just like that. There are no magic bullets, its just following all the rules and guidelines, doing your best, and learning from others, like us. We hope everyone has learned this important lesson, everyone in our family truly has. We are thankful for the Governor’s continued guidance and we look forward to working with the Ingham County Health Department, ELPD and the MLCC toward a safe and successful re-opening.”

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