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Emergency hearing set for area restaurants with suspended food service permits

Hearing is set for the morning of Sept. 2 in Aztec District Court

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
Customers in outdoor seating at TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington, on Aug. 6, are being served food. TJs and three restaurants are seeking to have the food service permits reinstated after violating the state's public health orders.
  • Farmington businesses TJ's Diner and both Los Hermanitos locations along with Kirtland business Country Family Restaurant had food service permits suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department.
  • Indoor dining was suspended as an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • The Daily Times visited the four businesses on Aug. 26 and Country Family was the only business closed.

FARMINGTON — An attorney for four local restaurants whose food service permits were suspended when the state said they violated New Mexico's COVID-19 public health order filed paperwork to have those permits reinstated and sought an emergency hearing.

Farmington businesses TJ's Diner and both Los Hermanitos locations, along with Country Family Restaurant in Kirtland, had food service permits suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department for allegedly violating the July 13 public health order by continuing to serve customers indoors when it was prohibited.

An 11 a.m. hearing on Sept. 2 in Aztec District Court is set for all four cases.

Indoor dining was suspended by the state in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.

New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said that 15% of all “rapid responses” for COVID-19 for the week of July 7 came from an employee testing positive at a restaurant, according to The Daily Times archives.

The state environment and health department filed petitions in July in state district court, seeking a court order to stop the restaurants from operating with a suspended food service permit.

Restaurants' attorney denies state's allegations

The four area restaurants were among nine statewide which had food service permits suspended as of July 23. 

Gary Risley, the attorney who represents the four restaurants, filed an answer and counterclaim on Aug. 26 to the state's petitions, along with an alternative writ of mandamus seeking an emergency order in the cases.

Most of the documents filed by Risley denied most of the allegations levied against the businesses, including:

• that the restaurants opened their dining areas in violation of the order;

• that the permits were suspended in violation of the state's food service and sanitation act;

• and that the businesses continued to operate with the suspension of the food service permit.

Both Los Hermanitos locations had food service permits suspended on July 14, TJ's had its permit suspended on July 16 and Country Family's was suspended on July 17, according to court documents.

Los Hermanitos at 3560 E. Main St. in Farmington was serving customers on Aug. 26 while it had a suspended food service permit. The restaurants have a court date when their attorney will challenge the suspensions.

All four restaurants were operating with suspended food permits on July 23 but without indoor dining, according to The Daily Times archives.

Risley argued the businesses were served with an immediate and illegal suspension of food permits, that the food service and sanitation act exists only to ensure food served to the public is sanitary and safe, and that the businesses were in full compliance with the act.

Risley's action also seeks to lift the food service permit suspensions and states the businesses will operate in accordance with indoor dining restrictions with the current and future health orders.

State restores two permits in Hobbs

Maddy Hayden, New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson, told The Daily Times that food service permits at Pizza Inn and Casey’s in Hobbs have been reinstated.

The Daily Times visited the four affected San Juan County businesses on Aug. 26 and Country Family was the only business closed.

The Country Family Restaurant at 4205 U.S. Highway 64 in Kirtland, in an undated photo, had its food service permit suspended by the New Mexico Environment Department.

When The Daily Times visited the restaurants on Aug. 4, only TJ's Diner was operating. Customers were being served outdoors at both Los Hermanitos locations and TJ's Diner on Aug. 26.

The Weck's restaurant in Farmington ceased indoor dining after being inspected by the state on July 14 and being warned it was violating the state public health orders. It established outdoor dining shortly after and started serving customers indoors on Aug. 29, in accordance with the terms in the most recent public health order.

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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