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State seeks court order to stop four restaurants from operating with no food permits

State believes businesses are putting staff, customers at risk

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • The New Mexico departments of environment and health filed petitions in Aztec District Court against Country Family Restaurant in Kirtland along with Farmington restaurants TJs Diner and both Los Hermanitos locations.
  • Maddy Hayden, New Mexico Environment Department Spokesperson, told The Daily Times the restaurants to its knowledge all continued to operate without a food service permit and none of the permits have been reinstated.
  • There had been 20,136 positive cases of the coronavirus with 632 deaths in New Mexico as of July 29.

FARMINGTON — The state is asking a district court to order four San Juan County restaurants to stop operating for violating the state public health order and not having a food service permit, stating the businesses place customers and staff in danger of contracting COVID-19.

The New Mexico departments of environment and health filed petitions in Aztec District Court against Country Family Restaurant in Kirtland along with Farmington restaurants TJs Diner and both Los Hermanitos locations, according to court documents.

The petitions request the state district court issue a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the businesses to comply with the Public Health Emergency Orders and stop operating without a food service permit.

Business:Kirtland restaurant becomes 4th in San Juan County to have food service permit suspended

The state environment department suspended the food service permits of nine restaurants statewide as of July 23 for offering indoor dine-in food service after public health restrictions were re-implemented on July 13 that prohibited indoor dining.

Court documents show the four restaurants were not providing indoor dining when a state environment employee visited the businesses on July 23 but continued to operate with the food permit suspended.

Country Family Restaurant had employees meeting customers at their vehicles and had set up outdoor tables.

TJs Diner and the Los Hermanitos location on East Main Street were serving customers at outdoor tables.

Country Family Restaurant in Kirtland

Nathan Hill, owner of TJs Diner, declined to comment on the court case.

Voicemails were left for Sam Gonzales, owner of the Los Hermanitos restaurants, along with Country Family Restaurant Owner Steve Jackson, who did not immediately respond to comment.

Gary Risley, an attorney representing the four restaurants, said in a July 30 statement the food being served at the restaurants is wholesome, safe and in compliance with the New Mexico Food Code and associated regulations.

The attorney argues having the restaurants' food service permits suspended as part of the state's public health order is illegal and a violation of the restaurants' rights. They plan on challenging the petition in court.

Calling the state's action illegal, Risley said the food permit suspension order threatens to bankrupt or severely financially harm the restaurants "and the numerous employees employed by them, and it will also harm the food suppliers and the other product and service providers who support the restaurants."

Maddy Hayden, New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson, told The Daily Times the restaurants to its knowledge all continue to operate without a food service permit and none of the permits have been reinstated.

Hayden added that the state continues to receive complaints about the restaurants from the "Report a Public Health Order Violation" form on the state health department website.

Unemployment benefits offered to workers at New Mexico restaurants defying COVID-19 closures

The state filed the petition against Country Family Restaurant on July 24, against TJs Diner on July 27 and both Los Hermanitos locations on July 28, according to court documents.

The state health department described indoor dining as a public health risk to employees and customers.

State environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said 15% of all "rapid responses" for COVID-19 for the week prior to July 14 were from a restaurant employee testing positive, according to The Daily Times archives.

The petition claims the state's public health emergency orders were enacted by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to protect the welfare and health of the public as it faces the coronavirus pandemic.

TJs Diner in Farmington

There had been 20,136 positive cases of the coronavirus with 632 deaths as of July 29.

The petition argues the restaurants continue in violation of state law and that customers and staff at the restaurants are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.

It also states the businesses show no intent to comply with state law and publicly stated plans to violate the public health orders.

Education:NMED suspends food service permits for three Farmington restaurant locations

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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