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Two Princeton businesses are among 14 state bars and restaurants that have received warning letters from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division regarding COVID-19 compliance.

The warnings for allegedly violating Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 Executive Order 74 followed two weeks of surveillance (July 4 to July 13) that put a total of 919 establishments under the state’s microscope, a DPS news release stated.

Princeton Speedway, 1400 Third St. N, and Long Siding Bar & Grill, 10038 55th St, received state notifications they had violated Order 74, the news release added.

Those conducting surveillance were looking for employees violating mask requirements, failing to adhere to social distancing with tables less than six feet apart, and establishments that were serving at more than 50% capacity.

Other bars and restaurants getting letters included Neisen’s Sports Bar, Savage; K & J Catering, North St. Paul; Route 47 Pub & Grub, Fridley; Danno’s, Anoka; CoV, Wayzata Hoban Korean BBQ, Minneapolis; Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant, Shakopee; Arnie’s Friendly Folks Club, Shakopee; Rollie’s, Sauk Rapids; Breakfast Bar, Minneapolis; The Stadium, Annandale; Cowboy Jack’s, Minneapolis.

In addition to the warning letters, state investigators spent time educating establishments that violated one or two of the points of emphasis. The majority of the violations included employees failing to wear masks, the release stated.

Investigators also found many customers violating the order’s seating guidelines.

Under EO-74, seating is limited to four people or six for immediate family members. Establishments reported many customers moving tables or seats together to allow for larger groups in one area.

The Union-Times contacted both businesses Monday afternoon for comment.

Long Siding Bar & Grill Manager Amy Zentner said in a telephone interview that the business has acted in response to the state’s letter, which was dated July 13.

“I’m assuming this is from our July 11 car show. We got the state letter on Thursday, July 16. We’ve made changes,” Zentner said. “We’ve masked up and checked the distance between our tables. We are compiling as best as we can.”

Zentner said Long Siding Bar & Grill will continue to educate staff and customers.

Princeton Speedway Promoter Holly Orpren said in a telephone interview that she never received a letter from the state. The Union-Times provided her with a copy of the DPS letter via email. “We called to see what the violation was,” she said. “We had not received anything. Basically, it’s our beer serving person not wearing a mask. We didn’t realize that she would have to wear one,” Orpren explained.

DPS Assistant Commissioner Booker Hodges and Carla Cincotta, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, conducted a Monday press conference to discuss the warning letters.

Hodges said that Walz’s Order 74 states that those establishments serving food and beverages must abide by certain COVID-19 requirement regarding number of occupants and social distancing spacing.

“Workers in these settings must wear face coverings,” Hodges said, adding DPS has heard from numerous local partners and general residents about people not complying with the executive order. “I respect these business and restaurant owners, and their workers,” Hodges said. “I expect owners would respect their employees enough to make sure their businesses are in compliance with the order. We are all frustrated with the way things are [under COVID-19]. This is a storm we have to weather together.”

Cincotta said Monday afternoon her enforcement division of DPS would really like to see the state’s liquor industry survive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We would like to see it thrive once again,” she stated. “Our division wants to see the liquor industry continue to improve. What we really did was complete a business observation. We went into view how the business owners were handing social distancing, the mask requirement, and also the occupancy load.”

According to Cincotta, the majority of the observed violations were employees not wearing masks, followed by a failure to social distance in an establishment.

“We would like to implore consumers and bar patrons to help this industry continue to move ahead,” Cincotta added. “We ask that patrons don’t show up in large groups and that you don’t cluster tables together or move the chairs.”

Cincotta said notification letters were sent the day following the observation period. She did concede that there may have been a lag in mail delivery time.

“We are continuing to work with the bar owners who have received the letters, she added. “Most of them are very eager to find solutions. We will follow-up with those establishments and continue to do observation of how they are executing their business plan. We want to provide education and get people in compliance.”

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