JACKSON — When an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Health showed up at The Coffee Nest (404 Second St.) in Jackson Tuesday and deemed the business "defiantly non-compliant to all executive orders," the owners opted to take a stand by closing up shop until current restrictions are lifted.
"Our customers and community are at the forefront of every business decision we make.," said Rebecca Nestegard, who owns the coffee shop with her husband. "Our state inspections have shown that we have always taken cleanliness and sanitation very seriously,"
When executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz demanded that businesses require employees and customers to wear masks, limit the number of people allowed inside and enforce social distancing protocols, the Nestegards objected.
"We chose to operate our small business while not adhering to our government's overreach, especially the overreach by Gov. Walz," Nestegard explained. "We believe his mandates are illegal and unconstitutional, and as such we will not enforce or adhere to them."
Someone in the community evidently reported this non-compliance to the state, because an MDH inspector arrived unannounced Tuesday to check out claims that The Coffee Nest was in violation of the governor's orders.
"While we passed our annual inspection with flying colors, (Tuesday) we were found 'defiantly non-compliant to all executive orders,'" Nestegard said. If the business didn't begin adhering to the current regulations, it would face a number of penalties, including fines, loss of their business license and even imprisonment.
Rather than comply, Nestegard said, "my husband and I decided to continue to stand for freedom and close our doors to avoid further action from the state.
"While we understand the financial risks involved, we have faith that we will be supported by our community when we are able to reopen," she added,
The inspector returned Wednesday to ascertain whether the Nestegards had decided to go along with the executive orders. Noticing the "closed until further notice" sign, the inspector snapped a photo of it and said she would send it to MDH.
Nestegard said she explained to the inspector that they would likely host some pop-up openings in the meantime, just to reduce overhead. The inspector said that even if the Nestegards operated only through curbside pickup or to-go orders, masks would still be required, adding that someone from MDH would follow up to make sure that rule was being followed. Even if only members of the Nestegard family were working — even though they live in the same house — the mask policy would still apply, because they handle food and drinks.
With that clarification, the Nestegards opted to stay completely closed rather than adhere to the state's requirements.
Nestegard posted an announcement on The Coffee Nest's Facebook page to let customers know the business would be closed until further notice. To her surprise, the post reached an audience of more than 40,000 people, and she began receiving comments and messages from both supporters and opponents of the decision to close.
Within a day, the post's traffic was overwhelming, and Nestegard deleted the initial announcement.
"We weren’t starting a forum for hatred," she posted Wednesday. "We have received hate messages, and awful things have been said about our business and me personally, and it’s disheartening. ... We weren’t playing victim, we were taking a stand."
While some reacted to the Nestegards' decision with hostility, others came out in support of the family's choice to close their business. Without being asked, community members began collecting money for the Nestegards to help them stay afloat while their doors are closed.
A local group has organized a show of support for 8 to 10 a.m. this morning outside the Coffee Nest. The group will provide coffee in exchange for a free-will donation. Attendees are invited to bring protest signs.
"The outpouring of support from near and far has been unimaginable," Nestegard said, "and for that we are grateful."