Rae’s Cafe must close for violating county mask mandate, judge rules

Business

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Rae’s Cafe in Blue Springs will be forced to close, at least for now, after a judge’s ruling Thursday.

A Jackson County judge sided with the county and granted a temporary restraining order after the restaurant violated Jackson County’s mask mandate. The same judge denied a countersuit filed by the cafe’s owner claiming the mandate was unlawful.

“We respect and appreciate the Court’s ruling as well as their time and attention to this matter. While we are pleased with the outcome, it is unfortunate that we had to pursue legal action, but today, the Court affirmed that doing so was our only option to ensure our public health order is followed. We remain committed to taking the actions needed to protect the health and safety of our community during this difficult and challenging time. Together we will get through this pandemic and in the end, we will have a stronger, more compassionate and caring community.”

Statement from Jackson County Executive Frank White’s office

Rae’s Cafe has continued to operate without a permit and while violating the county’s closure order as they were challenging it in court. But the judge’s ruling Thursday means Rae’s must close now until it comes into compliance and receives a new permit from Jackson County.

During a hearing on Wednesday about the restraining order, Jackson County Environmental Health Director Deborah Sees testified that the county had received complaints about Rae’s Café not complying with the mask order just days after it was put into place.

Sees said an inspector visited the restaurant and found both customers and employees not wearing masks and signs posted openly defying the mask mandate.

The restaurant received a warning on Aug. 18, but the county received another complaint on Aug. 27. This time the restaurant was ticketed for not making sure people wore masks.

The county received another complaint on Aug. 30. Sees said she visited the restaurant herself and talked with owner Amanda Wohletz.

Sees said Wohletz gave a lot of reasons for not following the mask mandate, including that the kitchen was too hot for her workers to wear masks, it was too inconvenient to enforce the mask requirement and Wohletz believed she would lose customers.

Sees testified that Wohletz never said her workers had medical exemptions until Sees returned on Sept. 3 to revoke the cafe’s food permit.

Sees said she found the medical exemption claim confusing because, during 2020 when a similar mask order was in place, Rae’s Cafe complied with the rules and the same employees did wear masks.

The restaurant has stayed open, claiming to be a private members-only club and charging $1 for anyone to enter and be served. The county compared that to a cover charge at a tavern, arguing that Rae’s is open to anyone willing to pay and is not a private club.

The future of Rae’s Cafe remains uncertain following Thursday’s ruling.

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