The Minnesota Department of Health has filed lawsuits against two restaurants for operating without a license after they were revoked for violating Gov. Tim Walz's COVID-19 executive orders.
In a news release Thursday, MDH said it filed a lawsuit against The Interchange in Albert Lea on Jan. 17 and another one against King Sparrow Coffee and Soda Shop in Milaca on Jan. 29, accusing both restaurants of continuing to operate and serve customers without an active restaurant license, which is a violation of state law.
“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,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said in a statement. “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," he added.
The lawsuits against The Interchange and King Sparrow come after a "history of noncompliance," MDH said.
Both restaurants received liquor license suspension notices in December and had 20 days to request a hearing, which neither did, so their licenses were suspended. However, they continued to be open serving customers.
Prior to their liquor license suspension, the restaurants, along with more than a dozen others, faced regulatory actions by the state for violating Executive Order 20-99, which prohibited in-person service at bars and restaurants in November and December.
The state filed cease-and-desist orders, license suspensions and administrative penalties against the establishments.
The Interchange is also facing a five-year liquor license revocation from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and a separate lawsuit from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Last month, the Interchange was fined $9,000 for planning a "'Nail it to the Walz' Reopen MN Party" that violated current executive orders that require restaurants to take reservations and prohibit them from serving customers after 10 p.m.
As for King Sparrow, MDH suspended its food and beverage license and issued a cease-and-desist order on Dec. 28, 2020, after it was found on Dec. 18, 2020, that it was open for in-person service and allowing more than five customers to pick up takeout orders at one time. Employees were also observed working without wearing masks.
MDH noted the case growth of COVID-19 has leveled, but it's crucial for businesses to continue following 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.”
Here's a list of restaurants and businesses the state has taken action against for violating COVID-related executive orders.