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Attorney general’s office files lawsuits against The Interchange, The Pour House

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Monday he has filed lawsuits against The Pour House in Clarks Grove and The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro in Albert Lea in violation of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order, which bans indoor dining through Jan. 10.

According to a press release, the state has received more than a dozen complaints about The Pour House, including a report that the bar was operating at max capacity. Public social media posts show patrons sitting shoulder to shoulder at the bar with no face coverings worn by any employee or customer.

The Interchange announced Wednesday it would be open for indoor dining in defiance of the governor’s order and on Friday had indoor live music at the restaurant. It was served a cease-and-desist order earlier in the day Friday and was still open for indoor dining Dec. 19.

“There are 10,000 restaurants and 1,500 bars in Minnesota,” Ellison said. “By far the vast majority of them have served their communities by complying with the law all along. Unfortunately, a very small handful are threatening their customers, their workers, and their communities by refusing to comply and violating the law. Their insistence on violating the law is simply prolonging the pain of the pandemic for everyone.”

Ellison said he does not enjoy using the enforcement tools available because he would prefer the establishments “do the right thing on their own,” but he will continue to use them to protect Minnesotans from COVID-19.

In its lawsuits against the restaurants, Ellison’s office has asked the court to: 

Declare that defendants’ actions constitute violations of Executive Order 20-99

• Stop anyone associated with these establishments from violating or threatening to violate the executive orders

  • Award restitution, disgorgement or damages to the state
  • Impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation or threatened violation of the executive order
  • Award the state its costs
  • Impose any other relief the court finds just

Any and all fines the court may impose go to the state of Minnesota general fund, not the Attorney General’s Office. 

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division on Saturday announced it had notified the two Freeborn County businesses they face a 60-day suspension of their liquor licenses for ongoing violations of the governor’s executive order by selling alcohol for on-premises consumption.

The Interchange owner Lisa Hanson on Facebook Sunday thanked the patrons who have supported her business since reopening and said she has had to bring back staff who had been laid off to support the influx of customers.

She said the business will continue to stay open as long as it can and noted many have donated to a legal defense fund for the business.

She asked people to call or email Walz and Ellison’s offices and demand they reopen Minnesota, return the business licenses that have been taken and drop the lawsuits and fines that have already been imposed.

This is about our rights to freely invite friends and family into our homes, to freely operate businesses, to freely go where we want, when we want, to freely choose to attend church, to freely choose whether we wear a mask or not, to freely choose to take a vaccine or not, etc.,” she wrote. “This is for our children’s and grandchildren’s freedoms and liberties.”