Permit likely to be approved for planned East Grand Forks sit-in protest

The protest is being organized by Justin LaRocque, owner of the East Grand Forks restaurant the Spud Jr., with the goal of raising funds for two businesses that reopened for dine-in service in violation of a state order against it.

State Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, at left; Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston; Justin LaRocque; East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander, and City Council President Mark Olstad discuss Gov. Tim Walz's executive order in a tent set up in front of the Spud Jr. (Adam Kurtz / Forum News Service)

According to the city administrator of East Grand Forks, approval has been given to block off a street for a sit-in style protest to be held on Jan. 9.

The protest is being organized by Justin LaRocque, owner of the East-side restaurant the Spud. Jr., with the goal of raising funds for two businesses that reopened for dine-in service, in violation of the executive order that shut them down to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“As far as we know, he's moving forward with it,” David Murphy, city administrator told the Herald.

However, a subsequent conversation with Mayor Steve Gander and the City Clerk, revealed the special event application has yet to be formally approved by the city council, and is set for discussion at the next council meeting on Jan. 5. Gander said the recommendation from city staff is clear cut, and that the application should be approved. He told the Herald he would speak favorably of the event.

“It would be most unusual for it not to be approved,” Gander said.


The idea is to block off Third Street Northwest, from DeMers Avenue to near Sacred Heart High School, so people can set up ice fishing houses or similar structures, and dine outside. On Dec. 16, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz extended his order that keeps restaurants and bars closed to in-person service, but allows patrons to sit at tables set up outside in front of those businesses.

The protest is meant to highlight what LaRocque called the “ridiculous” nature of allowing businesses to let people eat outside in the Minnesota winter, as a temporary substitute for dining in. LaRocque said he is asking participants to pay $40 to park and order a takeout meal from an East side restaurant.

LaRocque said he isn’t worried about the cold, and that people can be comfortable inside an ice house.

“I don't foresee the weather being too much of an issue, as long as people aren't bringing a four-person camping tent,” he told the Herald on Wednesday, Dec. 30. “That might blow away.”

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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