A Polk County Court on Friday closed down an East Grand Forks, Minn., bar that refused to shut its doors this week, with its owner defiantly insisting she would serve diners indoors despite Gov. Tim Walz's executive order barring such activities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorney General Keith Ellison had sought a temporary restraining order, and Judge Corey Harbott granted it Friday, keeping the Boardwalk Bar & Grill from opening for sit-down service, a news release from the Attorney General's Office said.
"I'm grateful for the court's quick action, because lives are at stake," Ellison said in a statement. "We look forward to pursuing our enforcement action to the fullest extent."
The restraining order noted that the state "will likely prevail" on its claim the restaurant was violating Walz's order, and said the restaurant's "patrons and general public will suffer irreparable harm" unless the restaurant is prevented from opening for in-person dining.
Boardwalk's closure came after Ellison's office sued the bar earlier Friday, and after several other attempts to get the bar to follow the rules.
On Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) served the restaurant with a cease-and-desist order. And local law enforcement tried to enforce the executive order on Wednesday, the day the restaurant reopened. Even so, the restaurant's owner said the establishment was open for business as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.
"Most of us can't survive financially unless we open back up," said owner Jane Moss, adding that restaurants next door in North Dakota were open and "doing well."
Walz's order gave the attorney general the civil authority to "enforce the prohibition and seek relief if necessary," the news release said, citing the high rates of COVID-19 infection in Polk County, where the tavern is located, and in neighboring North Dakota, which has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
If the restaurant defies the temporary restraining order, the state will ask the court to find it in contempt, a spokesman for the attorney general said.
MDH also filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the Attorney General's Office against Havens Garden, a restaurant in Lynd, Minn., on Friday, which remained open for dining despite the executive order. MDH served the restaurant with a cease-and-desist order on Wednesday morning and is now seeking a court-ordered injunction, according to a news release.
A restaurant outside of Nisswa in Crow Wing County, Iron Waffle, had its license revoked after several incidents of noncompliance. MDH received multiple complaints alleging employee masking violations.
Another act of defiance cropped up in Belle Plaine, where Natural Fitness gym opened Friday despite Walz's order.
Owners Cory and Sarah Czepa posted a message on the gym's Facebook page Thursday announcing that the doors to the 24-hour gym were open to members.
"We are simply just another business who is trying to survive and serve our customers and clients," they said in the post. "We have been informed the punishment can be extremely severe but we believe we are doing no harm."
The couple declined to comment about the decision.
It wasn't clear Friday whether state officials were aware of the gym's opening or whether any enforcement actions are planned. The attorney general's spokesman said he couldn't say if other businesses are on Ellison's radar.
The Boardwalk Bar & Grill enforcement is the second such action related to Walz's most recent executive order and the fourth related to compliance with COVID-19 executive orders, including the June order that lifted certain limitations on social interactions in indoor settings.
The attorney general took action against Plainview Wellness Center in Plainview, Minn., the day before Thanksgiving because it opened in defiance of the executive order. In that case, a hearing was held and the court issued a temporary injunction. The gym must remain closed for the duration of this executive order and any subsequent executive orders related to COVID-19, according to the spokesman for Ellison.
The state has also retroactively sued a rodeo — the North Star Stampede in Effie, Minn. — and preemptively sued Shady's, a bar and restaurant chain near St. Cloud, for not following the rules of the previous executive order. Both lawsuits are still underway, the spokesman said.
The court scheduled a hearing in the Boardwalk Bar & Grill case for 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Staff writers Jackie Crosby and Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781