One small business in Detroit is leading the way in testing its employees for coronavirus. The Turkey Grill has had all 17 of the workers at the restaurant tested.

The restaurant was singled out by Mayor Mike Duggan as one frontline operation that’s getting it right as the city tries to contain the outbreak and get back to some semblance of normal. 

George Lyles, owner of the restaurant at 8290 Woodward in the New Center district, was listening when Duggan invited health care and restaurant workers to get tested for free at the Michigan State Fairgrounds — regardless if they had symptoms or not.

The owner of the to-go spot specializing in Mississippi and Louisiana cooking registered his business with the testing site. Lyles contacted the call center at (313) 230-0505, where a representative evaluated if the business was essential and verified they are open. The Turkey Grill was then assigned an I.D. number for each employee to give when they got to the testing site.

Lyles said that within 48 hours, all his staff had been tested, including himself. He said none of his staff gave him pushback. All 17 tests came back negative.

Sanendra Glenn, who is the Turkey Grill’s shift supervisor, says the fact that her boss got them tested was more of a relief than anything.  

“He told us a day in advance we would all be getting tested and we all agreed to it.” Glenn says.  She added: “I was working on trying to get a test for myself, so the fact I could get it done quicker was even better.”

Since COVID-19 hit Detroit, the Turkey Grill has done several other things to protect workers. Although the Turkey Grill is largely a takeout operation, there are a few tables; in-house dining was banned in mid-March. Lyle cut 23 hours from the usual operating hours. This, along with enforcing the social-distancing rule, has forced the Turkey Grill to reduce its staff on each shift and limit its customers to no more than 10 at a time in the lobby.

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“We have six to seven people on staff each shift now and I had to stagger us in order to get us all tested,” Lyles said. 

What’s more, Lyles shut down the Turkey Grill entirely during the peak of the pandemic.  “We closed down for two weeks for the safety of our employees,” he said.

The doors were locked from April 5-19, because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that those weeks would be when Michigan would see its highest number of confirmed cases. 

Lyles saw then the need for everyone to be tested.  “It makes not just the people that work for me feel safe, but the people who support us throughout the community feel safe as well,” he said.

In the 48202 ZIP code where the Turkey Grill resides, there had been 319 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday in the 3.3-square-mile area where about 16,600 people live.

His staff now has to wash their hands as soon as they walk into the restaurant before going in the food preparing area. He has had to secure a supplier for 500 face masks to be shipped to the store every other week, so his employees can have a new mask to wear on each shift.

“I probably have the cooks change their masks about six times a shift and the cashiers twice a shift,” Lyles says. “We also make very little contact to the lobby area except for our frequent cleaning that we do on each shift.”

In Lyles’ 30 years running the Turkey Grill, he says he has never seen anything like the current business conditions. And he certainly never imagined one of his jobs as a business owner would be making sure his staff got tested for a deadly virus.  

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