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District court judge orders The Interchange to halt indoor on-premises dining

A Freeborn County District Court judge on Wednesday granted Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s motion for a temporary restraining order against The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro in Albert Lea.

The action, by District Court Judge Ross Leuning, essentially orders the restaurant’s owner and its employees to halt indoor on-premises dining.

“The temporary injunctive relief ordered by the court will help protect the public’s health and safety, as well as the health and safety of defendants’ patrons by temporarily closing Interchange for indoor on-premises dining…” Leuning wrote.

The matter is in the courts after the restaurant reopened for in-person dining last week, defying Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that requires bars and restaurants to close for on-premises indoor dining until Jan. 10 in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. The restaurant now must comply with the order or risk being found in contempt of court.

A Scott County District Court judge on Wednesday also granted the same motion against St. Patrick’s Tavern and Restaurant in New Prague.

“Two more courts have recognized the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the firm legal foundation of the state’s legitimate interest in putting a stop to it,” Ellison said in a news release. “I thank the thousands of Minnesota bars and restaurants that are doing the right thing and meeting their responsibility to their communities by continuing to follow the law. A handful are choosing to ignore their responsibility: By so doing, they’re simply extending the pain the pandemic has already wrought upon all of us.”

Leuning in his order wrote that The Interchange’s conduct “risks further increasing the rate of community spread in Minnesota.”

“The virus appears to spread more easily between people indoors for extended periods of time, and those situations are precisely what defendant’s conduct will foster,” Leuning said. “Compliance with the order is critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the capacity of Minnesota’s health system.”

The Interchange owner Lisa Hanson on Facebook on Sunday thanked the patrons who have supported her business since reopening for in-person dining last week. She 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. 

The case is scheduled for a motion hearing Jan. 28.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday also issued a notice of license suspension to The Interchange and a cease-and-desist order and notice of license suspension to The Pour House in Clarks Grove.