The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) filed two lawsuits last week against restaurants that continue to operate without a license, following a history of noncompliance.
MDH filed a lawsuit against The Interchange, a restaurant in Albert Lea, on Jan. 27, and a lawsuit against King Sparrow Coffee and Soda Shop, a restaurant in Milaca, on Jan. 29, for operating without a license, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 157.16.
Both restaurants received license suspension notices in December, and had 20 days to request a hearing. Neither requested a hearing within 20 days, so their licenses were officially suspended. They continued to operate, and restaurants are not allowed to provide food and beverage service without an active restaurant license.
“Our preference is always to work with facilities to bring them into compliance, but we owe it to the vast majority of businesses that follow the rules to have accountability for those who do not,” said MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff. “The public depends upon the licensing of bars and restaurants as a basic public health measure, which is why the legislature requires that bars and restaurants have an active license in order to serve the public. With the added risks of COVID-19 transmission, it is even more critical to ensure all establishments are in compliance.”
The lawsuits against The Interchange and King Sparrow follow a series of regulatory actions in response to violations of Executive Order 20-99, which prohibited bars and restaurants from offering on-premises dining. This includes cease-and-desist orders, license suspensions, and administrative penalties. The Interchange also faces a 5-year liquor license revocation from the Minnesota Department of Safety, and has a separate ongoing lawsuit with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.
Executive order 20-99 was issued at a time of rapid acceleration in the spread of COVID-19 across Minnesota and sought to protect Minnesotans while also preventing hospitals and health care systems from becoming overwhelmed by the surge in cases. Case growth slowed following the executive order, suggesting it helped slow the spread of COVID-19. While case growth has levelled, it remains crucial for businesses to abide by the public health guidance.
“With new COVID-19 variants spreading in the community, we need to be all the more vigilant in protecting ourselves and our communities,” Huff said. “Evidence suggests the B.1.1.7 and P.1 variants spread more easily than the typical COVID-19 infection, so it’s even more important than ever to be wearing masks, social distancing, and following public health protocols for businesses.”