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Flint Restaurants Struggle in Wake of the City's Water Crisis

The water is testing safe, but getting customers to drink it is another story

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Besides being a basic human right, access to clean drinking water is also a necessity for any restaurant to operate. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has put a major squeeze on local restaurateurs, many of whom are having a tough time convincing customers their water — and by extension, their food — is safe to consume.

The trouble began when the city stopped buying water from Detroit as a cost-cutting measure, sourcing it from the Flint River instead. Despite the city's — and the EPA's — insistence that it was perfectly safe to drink, tests of the water supply revealed potentially dangerous levels of lead. Restaurants attempted to circumnavigate the issue by buying bottled water and installing filters, but nonetheless many residents were afraid to eat out.

Now, even though the city has switched back to Lake Huron water that tests are showing to be safe to drink, NPR reports restaurants are continuing to struggle. Such a water crisis would be a tough blow for any restaurant community, but especially for Flint, where business was just starting to pick back up following a harsh economic downturn that started in the 1980s thanks to automotive plant layoffs.

Many restaurants have taken to displaying their water test results in their front windows, or in the case of Angelo's Coney Island, providing a copy of said test results on every table. Nonetheless, the restaurant's manager tells NPR, "The first question out of everybody's mouth is, 'Do you have Flint water?'"

While the city has switched back to a safe water supply, it's far from an easy fix: The lead-contaminated water has led to corroded pipes throughout the city, and it could take years for a full recovery. In the meantime, the restaurants of Flint are hoping customers will once again feel comfortable dining out — the fate of their businesses depends on it.

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