The owner of Iron Waffle Coffee Co. is now facing a $120,000 fine because her business was suspended for repeated violations of the governor’s pandemic-driven executive order.
At the Zoom court hearing on Thursday, September 9, Ramsey County Judge Laura Nelson agreed to the Minnesota Attorney General’s request that the Minnesota Department of Health inspectors be fined $98,000 per day for 49 days after the business was discovered. -A fine of $2,000 for operating without a food and beverage license. Nelson also agreed to postpone the fine order for 30 days at the request of the attorney for Iron Waffle owner Stacy Strane. Nelson stated that this period provided an opportunity for both parties to discuss an “offramp” to reach a solution to the case. At the same time, the next step in the case is the court to order mediation.
“If Iron Waffle continues to operate without a license, it is contempt of court,” Nelson said. “…There is a procedure to challenge a decision you disagree with. There is a process, and this is not it.”
The hearing on Thursday was held after Kaitrin Vohs, the Assistant Attorney General for the Minnesota Department of Health, filed an accelerated motion in mid-August to enforce the court’s June 22 contempt order. In the motion, in addition to the US$22,000 fine already ordered by Judge John H. Guthmann, Vohs also requested a fine of US$62,000.
However, in the next few weeks, the Minnesota Department of Health continued to inspect the business and found that it had been operating without a license for 18 days at a rate of US$2,000 per day equivalent to the potential fine of US$36,000 requested by Vohs on Thursday.
“The fines requirements seem to be high, but Iron Waffle through Stacy Strane has always controlled the fines,” Vohs said. “…They cannot continue to operate because they disagree with the final decision made by the department nine months ago. For those who disagree with the law, there are no exceptions to the law.”
Vohs said that officials in the health department are not happy to continuously implement existing orders. She pointed out that the department is seeking compliance through financial pressure and will not require the court to exercise its inherent power to issue a warrant for Strana’s arrest. However, it reserves the right to seek such consequences in the future.
“The department had to use its resources 49 times to send inspectors to this restaurant just to see if it was open,” Voss said. “(She) operating without a license endangers public health. The fines are high, but there are reasons why they are high.”
The lawyer representing Stranne, Richard Dahl, said his client did not pose a threat to public health, but was the subject of a ruthless campaign that abused its political power and fraudulently revoked its license.
The state’s latest request is part of an ongoing civil lawsuit against Iron Waffle, which was first launched in December 2020. The lawsuit was the next step at the time. Inspections, fines and other administrative measures in the previous months failed to prevent the company from violating the administrative order regarding the use of masks and takeaway requirements for continued operations. Before the court’s contempt decision, Guthmann approved a state motion for a temporary injunction on May 18 to prevent Iron Waffle from operating without the permit it first revoked in December.
Dahl argued on Thursday that under the emergency powers of Governor Tim Walz, the health department has no right to revoke permits in the first place. Dahl also pointed out that the failure of the state agency to properly notify Strana of the revocation of the decision deprived her of the right to appeal the decision in an appropriate place and within the time allowed by the law. He called the state’s assertion that Stranne received proper notice as lies and “a pile of shit.”
Dahl said: “They abuse the law and declare here that they will distort the Emergency Powers Act and allow the governor to act as a dictator on all legal issues.”