Haven’s Garden owner says fight with state isn’t about attention
McFarquhar says her goal has been for her daughters, herself to stand up for their rights and their faith
LYND — Haven’s Garden was quiet the morning of Feb. 9, although a flier at the door advertised a Valentine’s Day dinner party later that week.
The lights were off in the Lynd restaurant’s bar area and part of the seating area, and there weren’t any customers eating or stopping in to place orders.
Haven’s Garden owner Larvita McFarquhar said she typically doesn’t see a big breakfast or lunch crowd, although it depends on the day. But she was adamant that her restaurant has been open regularly since 2017, and that she was fighting to keep it open.
“This has nothing to do with attention,” she said of her conflict with the Minnesota Department of Health over COVID-19 restrictions. People were “sick” to think that, she said. “For me, it’s all about the Constitution.”
McFarquhar spoke with an Independent reporter last week. She said she’s been fighting state orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 because she believes they are unconstitutional. McFarquhar said her goal has been for her daughters and herself to stand up for their rights and their faith. “This is not something new.”
McFarquhar said COVID-19 restrictions have hurt her livelihood, both the restaurant and a gymnastics studio.
“They took away everything,” she said. She said it was also hard dealing with “threats” from the governor and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.
McFarquhar was at the center of controversy at different points over the past year, most notably when she started advertising that her business would be open in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions against indoor dining. The Minnesota Department of Health sued McFarquhar, and a judge ordered that she be fined for every day the business was in violation of executive orders on COVID-19. The fines were later increased from $250 a day to $1,000 a day. Court records said McFarquhar has been fined a total of $25,750 so far, which has not been paid.
Minnesota restaurants can currently have indoor dining at 50% capacity with a maximum of 250 people. However, court documents raised concerns that McFarquhar didn’t have a COVID-19 preparedness plan or accommodations for restaurant staff who couldn’t wear masks.
McFarquhar said last week she’s not doing anything wrong, and is using an OSHA illness prevention program, as well as spacing out tables and providing hand sanitizer for customers.
McFarquhar’s conflict with the state started last spring, when shutdown orders were issued for businesses — including bars and restaurants — that had a greater risk of spreading COVID-19. She became part of a lawsuit brought by a group of Minnesotans opposed to Gov. Tim Walz’s orders closing businesses like bars and restaurants to slow the spread of COVID-19.
McFarquhar said she heard about the lawsuit through Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition in the case. At the time, she was already worried about the executive orders.
“I was looking into it anyway, thinking ‘This can’t be real,'” she said. “I couldn’t believe the governor was doing what he was doing.” She thought the orders were unconstitutional.
Things started to pick up from there. In November, Marshall Public Schools decided not to renew McFarquhar’s contract as gymnastics coach, and in response McFarquhar posted a social media video claiming she was fired for not wearing a face mask. Later that month, she hosted an event with food and live music at Haven’s Garden, in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions. In December, Southwest Health and Human Services suspended and then reinstated her restaurant license. On Feb. 3, she was served a trespassing order for disrupting her daughter’s classes at Southwest Minnesota State University, and not wearing a mask in defiance of campus rules. McFarquhar returned to campus the next day and was cited for trespassing and disorderly conduct.
McFarquhar said she accompanied her daughter to class on those days because her daughter was afraid of how she would be treated for not wearing a mask. A court date for McFarquhar’s trespassing citation hasn’t been set yet, and in the mean time she said she is “trying to figure out what to do.”
McFarquhar has been the owner of a gymnastics studio in Lynd since 2016, in the same building complex as the restaurant. The restaurant opened as Trev’s Kitchen in 2017, and McFarquhar said she renamed the business Haven’s Garden last spring.
McFarquhar said the restaurant hadn’t closed down between its first opening and the name change, although people had said they didn’t know it was open.
“They’ve always said that,” McFarquhar said. “I’ve gotten it from the beginning.”
Haven’s Garden is open from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 8 to 11 p.m. on Fridays, she said. She said the restaurant now has a staff of just five people.
“It’s very difficult. That’s why our hours are what they are,” she said. She also said the restaurant’s hours were limited because her family came first.
The ReOpen Minnesota Coalition, a political action group, started a fundraiser for McFarquhar and her four daughters on Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo. So far, the fundraiser has received more than $40,000 out of a $100,000 goal. McFarquhar said she has not received any money from that fundraiser yet, because it has not reached the goal.
The fundraiser “goes toward everything. It gives me an opportunity to have a lawyer . . . and have a legal defense,” McFarquhar said. She said she was “very thankful” for the fundraiser organizers and donors.
Even with work and family, McFarquhar was able to travel to the Jan. 6 rally for former President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., before rioters broke into the U.S. Capitol building.
“That was a last-minute thing,” she said of the trip. McFarquhar drove to northern Virginia with a group of five people who wanted to attend the rally and support the president, she said.
“The crowd was huge, but organized,” McFarquhar said. While she was part of the crowd that walked from the Trump rally to the Capitol, she said she did not see anyone storm the Capitol building. Instead, McFarquhar said the crowd prayed, sang the national anthem and chanted. Later, law enforcement started using tear gas and pushing people out from around the Capitol.
“I think we were all in shock,” she said. She said she saw a person in the crowd get shoved down and attacked by police. “You don’t beat someone like that.”
While business hasn’t been steady at Haven’s Garden this winter, there have been events that drew groups of people, including people from outside the southwest Minnesota region. On Jan. 29, around 50 people gathered for a meal and a guest appearance by Richard Mack. Mack, a former Graham County, Ariz., sheriff, is the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. The organization believes sheriffs have the authority to not enforce, or to take action against, laws they think are unconstitutional.
At the event, McFarquhar said she had reached out to Mack about her situation.
“All I did was pick up the phone and I called,” McFarquhar said. “I said, ‘Will you call my sheriff?’ and he said yes.”
Lyon County Sheriff Eric Wallen wasn’t at the event, but he said he had spoken with McFarquhar and Mack on the phone. Wallen said it was important for the public to remember that sheriff’s offices are different around the country, and Mack’s experiences in Arizona might not apply to Minnesota. On top of that, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office had not been called on to enforce any of the MDH’s civil suit, he said.
Wallen said concerned members of the public had called the Sheriff’s Office asking about events at Haven’s Garden, especially the November event that drew around 100 people. However, the volume of calls has “greatly died down” over the past couple of months, he said.