Saginaw, restaurant owner settle lawsuits over license revocation

City council approves settlement that will net “Rita’s” owner $325,000.
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 6:05 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WJRT) - A big settlement for a Saginaw restaurant owner who was shut down by the city more than four years ago.

The city revoked the business license for Rita’s Southern Soul Cafe after a shooting outside the business in 2017.

Owner Rita Johnson sued, and now the case is settled.

Johnson says she has no hard feelings and the settlement amount will more than help get the restaurant back open.

“I m very please about this coming to an end,” says Johnson when asked about the settlement.

This story started in May of 2017, when gunshots outside of Rita’s Southern Soul Cafe shattered some windows and nerves, but there were no injuries.

Saginaw officials moved to revoke Johnson’s business license, concerned about public safety. The restaurant sits in a prime location in downtown Saginaw, walking distance from the Dow Event Center and the Temple Theatre.

There were hearings and lawsuits, but the restaurant has remained closed for more than four years.

“No income, paying water bills, consumers, everything that needed to be paid,” she says.

Johnson filed two federal lawsuits against the city, claiming her constitutional rights were violated. Last night, the Saginaw City Council voted to approve a settlement between Johnson and the city, which calls for her business license to be reinstated and the city will pay her her $325,000.

“That gives a nice cushion, a nice cushion, so we should be able to do all the things we need, maybe even renovating our second floor,” Johnson says.

She plans on opening the restaurant on New Year’s Day.

“We just want it to be somewhere people can come and feel safe, have a good time, have a good meal,” she says.

It’s been a tough four and a half years, plus throw a pandemic into the mix, but Johnson is not looking back.

“It gave me a recharge, and that’s always important, sometimes you need to lay back, you know and just think about what you did, what you could have done, and what you can do to make things better,” Johnson says.

We emailed Saginaw city manager Tim Morales for comment on the settlement, but did not hear back.

As far as that shooting case back in 2017, Saginaw Police say there have been no arrests.

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