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‘They want me to comply’

Lynd restaurant owner continues to operate with suspended food license

LYND — Area health officials have suspended the food service license of a Lynd restaurant that opened for dine-in service in violation of an executive order from the governor.

Restaurant owner Larvita McFarquhar said Thursday she will keep Haven’s Garden in Lynd open.

“They want me to just comply,” McFarquhar said Thursday. But she said she couldn’t comply with what she called “unlawful and unconstitutional” action by Gov. Tim Walz, and she planned to make her case to health officials.

McFarquhar said her restaurant was open Thursday and will open for business today.

Haven’s Garden hosted an event featuring food and music on Nov. 27. Under a current executive order, Minnesota bars and restaurants are supposed to be closed for dine-in service through Dec. 18.

On Wednesday, McFarquhar posted photos of a food and beverage inspection report from Southwest Health and Human Services. The report calls for the restaurant to cease operations after 80 to 100 people were observed eating and drinking inside on Nov. 27, and suspends its food license.

The report says McFarquhar has 10 working days to file a request to appeal the suspension. The report also says SWHHS will charge a re-inspection fee for followup inspections. Under Lyon County ordinances, operating a restaurant with a suspended license can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.

Enforcement action against Haven’s Garden could stop if the business complies with the executive orders, said SWHHS Environmental Health Manager, Jason Kloss.

While Haven’s Garden had its food service license through SWHHS, it does not have a liquor license from the city of Lynd. The business has not had a local liquor license since October 2019, and the city did not issue a 2020 license for Haven’s Garden, said Lynd city clerk Sue Paradis.

Paradis said the business applied for, but did not receive, a CARES Act grant from the city of Lynd. The city did approve a $1,561 grant to the Southwest School of Dance, which McFarquhar also owns. Paradis said there were five other Lynd businesses who that received CARES grant funding.

Residents’ response

So far, McFarquhar’s situation has drawn attention from media, and political action groups like Action 4 Liberty, which has a “Justice for Larvita” petition on its website, and the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition. On Nov. 24, ReOpen Minnesota started a defense fundraiser for McFarquhar on Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. As of Thursday, the page had raised more than $14,000.

“I’m really not thinking about it right now,” McFarquhar said of how she plans for the money to be used. She said she would have to wait and see what happens in her situation.

A lot is still unknown about what will happen with COVID-19 emergency orders in Minnesota, she said. “We don’t know what the governor is going to do, we don’t know what the attorney general is going to do, for any of us.”

But some area residents say they are concerned about the health risks that having dine-in restaurant service will pose. On Thursday, the Marshall Area Peace Seekers delivered a letter to Sheriff Wallen, saying they intend to distribute informational leaflets in Lynd Dec. 7.

“We’re not trying to take a hammer to somebody,” said MAPS member Darwin Dyce. The leaflets will encourage people to support local restaurants in safer ways, like buying take-out food or gift cards.

“It’s a very tragic thing that COVID is going on, but we have to be smart,” Dyce said. “We have to find healthy ways to support that kind of business.”

Dyce said it seemed like the timing of the gathering at Haven’s Garden was odd, together with its support from conservative groups like Action 4 Liberty. “I would hate to think these organizations are influencing her decisions,” Dyce said.

Public concerns

Haven’s Garden has been the subject of calls to Lyon County law enforcement, Sheriff Eric Wallen said. However, Wallen said the Sheriff’s Office is taking an approach of emphasizing education about COVID-19 and the executive orders. Southwest Health and Human Services is taking enforcement action on Haven’s Garden’s food service license, and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is monitoring the situation, he said.

Current guidance from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety suggests that law enforcement agencies “seek to educate instead of taking an enforcement approach when they observe or are notified of a possible EO (executive order) violation.”

“We believe that officers can address most complaints of violations of the EO on a case-by-case basis, beginning with an educational discussion rather than an enforcement action,” the guidance said. “These are opportunties to talk about why and how federal, state, and local authorities are taking action to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The guidance also notes that state and local health and regulatory agencies may investigate violations of the executive order at restaurants and bars.

Wallen said area residents have voiced concerns about Haven’s Garden opening. Wallen said he was “in error” when he told the Independent there had been no calls to the Sheriff’s Office about Friday’s gathering. Daily incident reports said there were no calls for service in Lynd on Friday night, but after checking with the supervisor who was on duty that night, Wallen said there were calls from people who were asking what actions law enforcement would be taking. Because those questions were more informational, incident reports were not made, he said.

“I don’t want to mislead people,” Wallen said of the error. “I feel terrible about this misrepresentation. I have pushed for transparency and am quite embarrassed that the report I referenced didn’t reflect the information the public was seeking.”

Kloss said he met with McFarquhar on Wednesday about the license suspension for Haven’s Garden, and at that time she said she planned to appeal the suspension.

While there haven’t been any actions taken against Haven’s Garden by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, a spokesperson said Thursday they are continuing to work with county health officials.

Kloss said he understood the frustrations that business owners like McFarquhar are feeling about the governor’s orders. However, at this time it’s important to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and that’s what the orders are meant to do.

“The executive order is a tough situation for a lot of restaurants,” Kloss said. “But I can’t pick and choose what I enforce.”

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