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Boardwalk Bar and Grill opens in defiance of Walz COVID order

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill defied a gubernatorial order on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and opened to dine-in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund, right, hands a copy of Gov. Tim Walz's executive order to Jane Moss, who owns the Boardwalk Bar and Grill. Moss opened her restaurant on Wednesday despite Walz's order, which bars in-person dining service. Joe Bowen/Grand Forks Herald

An East Grand Forks restaurant is the site of a small rebellion.

The Boardwalk Bar and Grill reopened to dine-in customers Wednesday afternoon, despite Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that explicitly banned it in an effort to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus.

“Boardwalk Bar has been placed into a situation of having to defy the Minnesota stay closed order,” owners Jane Moss and Dan Stauss wrote to East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander in a letter dated Friday, Dec. 4.

Moss and Stauss claimed the bar has lost $150,000 that it can never recapture.

“It is impossible to shut down, open up, shut down and move forward with everyone scared,” they wrote. “The arbitrary shutting down selected businesses is definitely wrong.”

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Moss declined to speak to the Herald on Wednesday, but she mingled with the steady stream of customers, virtually all maskless, as they munched on cheese curds or nursed beers in the downtown restaurant. One woman arrived sporting a “Party like it’s 1773” shirt -- an apparent reference to the Boston Tea Party -- and a pair of men posed for a selfie, careful to obscure the corporate logos on their jackets beforehand.

Business at the Boardwalk was about as brisk as it would be on a typical Wednesday evening, an employee said. Most employees wore masks.

“They’re not supposed to be open, so why not come to where you’re not supposed to be? Right?” said a woman who told the Herald her name was Dolores, but who declined to give her last name at the urging of her husband, who sat next to her and said his name was Casimir. “Rebels.”

There were only a few outward signs that civic leaders knew about the opening. Council member Dale Helms chatted with Moss about their businesses and cleared out shortly before the restaurant opened at 4 p.m. Helms told her he’d had to lay off dozens of drivers at his busing firm.

Police Chief Mike Hedlund arrived shortly afterward with a copy of Walz’s order in hand and pointed out to Moss the portion of it that barred restaurants from serving dine-in customers.

At present, it’s unclear what sort of consequences Moss’ business might face: Violating Walz’s order is a misdemeanor that could mean a fine of up to $1,000, Hedlund said. The Minnesota Department of Health was readying a cease and desist order, Hedlund said. Staff there did not return a Herald request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has tussled with three other Minnesota businesses over Walz’s orders, and Ellison has ultimately sued each. John Stiles, Ellison’s deputy chief of staff, said they generally try to remind businesses of the order they’re violating before heading to court, where they ask for damages of up to $25,000 for each violation of the order.

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Boardwalk Bar and Grill .... Kimberly Wynn / Grand Forks Herald

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