ST. PAUL — Minnesota's executive branch is pursuing enforcement actions against a number of restaurants and bars that have defied Gov. Tim Walz's coronavirus mitigation executive orders.

In a Friday, Dec. 18, news release, Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that his office filed lawsuits against two restaurants, both within an hour's drive of the Twin Cities, that reopened for indoor dining despite Walz's executive orders aimed to curb the spread of the airborne virus. Bars and restaurants are ordered by the state to only serve outdoor diners or carry-out orders through Jan. 10.

Per Ellison's office, both restaurants Cornerstone Cafe in Monticello and Cork in Anoka publicly advertised that they would reopen for in-store service in spite of Walz's orders. As they have done in similar situations, Ellison said his office contacted the restaurants and get them to agree to voluntarily comply, but they went on with indoor service anyway.

Of the thousands of restaurants in the state, Ellison said most have been following state guidelines since March. But he said Cornerstone Cafe and Cork were "among the very few that have refused to live up to their responsibility to keep their customers, employees, and communities safe."

Separately, the Minnesota Department of Health pursued issued cease-and-desist orders Friday against four restaurants that also violated Walz's orders. According to health department news releases, Alibi Drinkery, in the metro in Lakeville; The Interchange, in southern Minnesota's in Albert Lea; Hooligans Lakeside in Lake Park, and The Pizza Depot in Becker served food and beverages indoors in defiance of the orders.

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Both Ellison and Health Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said they'd prefer businesses and Minnesotans to comply with the orders voluntarily, rather than force them to use enforcement measures "as a last resort."

Walz was met with swift backlash and threats of defiance from business owners and Minnesotans alike when he extended his moratorium on indoor dining on Wednesday. For many businesses that have been scraping by for months, the latest round of closures at the busiest time of year — could be a final nail in the coffin.