State cracking down on bars and restaurants opening against order

Two people stand behind a bar.
Carina and Charles Hafner own The Shafer Saloon Bar and Grill in Shafer, Minn. They reopened the restaurant despite Minnesota's ban on indoor dining only to close after hearing from state officials.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

A few customers were eating and drinking inside the Shafer Saloon Bar and Grill just outside Taylors Falls, Minn., Thursday afternoon when the phone rang.

“We got the warning. We need to shut down,” said Carina Hafner who owns the establishment with her husband, Charles, who picks up what happened next.

“They told us that they’re going to pull liquor licensing, they’re going to fine us $2,500 per violation and we can’t afford that,” he said.

Carina Hafner said she expected enforcement but hoped it wouldn’t come so soon. They were only open for about a day and a half.

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The customers inside were allowed to finish their food and drinks before leaving. No one new was let it.

A building with a sign that says "Shafer Saloon Pizza & Grill"
The Shafer Saloon Bar and Grill in Shafer, Minn., is located about 45 minutes north of St. Paul, just outside of Taylors Falls, Minn.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The Hafners and the handful of remaining customers are not happy with Gov Tim Walz. They think it’s ridiculous the saloon must close.

“How is it spread in bars but not in Walmart and not in Target not in the big-box stores?” asked the Hafners. “How is it not spreading there but it spreads in our tiny little bar?”

Business boomed for the brief period they were open.

“So many people came from all over to support us,” Carina Hafner said. “We had a bartender that left in tears because she was able to make enough money to pay her rent this month with even being open one day. It’s affecting our employees that much.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison said he understands that hardship, but keeping bars and restaurants closed except for takeout is in the best interest of public health.

“They can try to do what they’re doing,“ Ellison said. “I am going to enforce the law.”

The attorney general said he’s taken action against several hospitality businesses and won every time. The group Reopen Minnesota Coalition claims hundreds of bars and restaurants are defying the shutdown order or plan to soon.

Ellison underscores the vast of establishments are following the order.

“The real story is that most people are observing the executive orders,” Ellison said.

At the Shafer Saloon Bar and Grill, patron 40-year-old Jeff Bouchee said he thinks the shutdown order is unconstitutional. He showed up to support the Hafners, who are his friends
“We stand for freedom; freedom of property, freedom of religion, freedom of association — that’s why I’m here.”

Carina Hafner said her brief — unlawful — opening helped bolster the business.

“That’s a little bit more money we have to get through the shutdown not but it’s still, with the bills that come in still every month, it costs a lot to keep the place going even with nobody here,” she said.

The current restrictions on bars and restaurants run through Jan. 10.