MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Thursday that it has filed lawsuits against restaurants in Albert Lea and Milaca that continue to operate despite the establishments’ licenses being suspended.

According to MDH, a lawsuit was filed against The Interchange in Albert Lea on Jan. 27 and King Sparrow Coffee and Soda Shop in Milaca on Jan. 29, with both being accused of violating Minnesota law for operating without a license.

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MDH says both licenses were suspended following violations of COVID-19 restrictions, which at the time prohibited indoor dining.

“Both restaurants received license suspension notices in December, and had 20 days to request a hearing. Neither requested a hearing within 20 days, so their licenses were officially suspended. They continued to operate, and restaurants are not allowed to provide food and beverage service without an active restaurant license,” MDH said in a press release.

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The Interchange also faces a five-year liquor license revocation from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and also has an ongoing lawsuit with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.

“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. “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.”

Dining restrictions during the pandemic have since been loosened to 50% capacity for bars and restaurants.

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