A rural Minnesota tavern owner who threatened to defy an executive order from the governor must follow restrictions limiting on-premise dining and drinking, a Stearns County judge ruled Tuesday.

But Kris Schiffler isn't ready to give up the battle.

"You're darn right we'll keep fighting," said Schiffler, owner of six Minnesota restaurants, including Shady's Tavern in Albany, Minn., about 85 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. "This is just the beginning. We'll keep 'er rolling."

Schiffler said he expected to lose this round, but said he plans to take his case to federal court.

Schiffler was fighting a temporary restraining order barring him from fully reopening his restaurants for on-site drinking and dining during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He had proclaimed on social media that he'd reopen in defiance of Gov. Tim Walz's executive order, which limited bars and restaurants to takeout service through May 31. Since Monday, dining and drinking establishments have been permitted to offer outside dining only, by reservation, with social distancing and parties of no more than four unrelated people or six members of the same family.

On May 18, a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside Shady's in Albany, offering support for Schiffler and hoping to go into his restaurant at noon. But instead, he came outside and told the crowd that Attorney General Keith Ellison had a court order preventing him from opening.

Later that week, attorneys for Schiffler and the state made their arguments in a video hearing before Stearns County District Judge Shan Wang.

In his ruling Tuesday, Wang ordered Schiffler's restaurants to "fully comply" with Executive Order 20-56 and any future orders that might be issued. He acknowledged the hardships suffered by small businesses during the pandemic.

However, Wang wrote, "allowing the Defendants to unilaterally disregard the Executive Order because of their belief that they have implemented sufficient measures to ensure public safety at their establishments would be contrary to law and public policy."

Several days before his planned reopening, Schiffler was contacted by an attorney from Ellison's office, who told him that his plan would violate the executive order, according to the ruling. When Schiffler continued to tout his plan to reopen on May 18, Ellison's office sought and was granted the restraining order, issued just before the planned noon reopening.

In tears, Schiffler told the crowd of supporters that he would face a potential fine of $25,000 a day per location if he went ahead with the reopening, and vowed to fight it in court.

Despite the judge's rejection of his arguments, Schiffler was undaunted Tuesday.

"Even if we're not in business anymore, we're gonna keep the fight going for all the other small businesses that are hurting," he said. "We're gonna keep fighting until this is over."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402