EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn — Joe's Diner normally closes at 3 p.m. On Wednesday, Dec. 16, it stayed open until 8:30 p.m. because the owner found support for the defiance of Gov. Tim Walz's executive order was overwhelming.
"We had a really good day, but I'm scared," said owner Joe Bushaw.
It's been a rough start to the business career for 19-year-old Bushaw. He opened the diner in August. In October, he had to shut down for two weeks when the heater broke, costing him $25,000 in lost business. An employee also allegedly stole another $20,000.
"If we had to wait until Jan. 11, we would have had to close. There is no money. Period," Bushaw said.
"They've caught the attention of the attorney general," Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said.
Joe's Diner, 300 Third Ave. N., was one of a handful of restaurants that opened Wednesday as part of the ReopenMN Coalition. A list released by a Facebook page of the same name contained 150 business names, but Ellison said only a handful actually opened.
Bushaw said it's not about just him but his employees as well.
"The tips they got today were outrageous, which shows we have the support of the community," he said. "There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is no need to do something this desperate, that's bad and ... dangerous."
There's been no action taken against Joe's Diner yet, but Bushaw said he was threatened with $25,000 in daily fines and time behind bars.
Minnesota's attorney general is already locked in a legal battle with another business in town, the Boardwalk Bar and Grill, that opened last week for four days but has since closed due to a pending court case. The restaurant faces fines and had its liquor license suspended long past the governor's new reopening date.
Ellison, who said several times during an interview he is sympathetic to business owners, indicated he may show some compassion in court if these restaurants close down their dining rooms.
"I don't want to come down on anyone, but I just can't let people spread COVID. I can't do it," he said.
"There's no other choice, really. I'm really scared but not as much as yesterday," Bushaw said.