Michelle Lujan Grisham is Making Florida Great Again.
After 18 months of “peaceful noncompliance” with the governor’s mask mandates and most of 2021 spent battling several city and state agencies, the operators of Backstreet Grill in Old Town are closing up shop and moving to Florida.
Faced with the prospect of continuous court battles, more broken windows at his business, and continued threats against his staff and family, management threw in the towel last week. Sunday was their last day in business.
Other than great food and some of most courteous staff in town, Albuquerque will be losing 35–40 jobs and a taxable income of over $1 million, according to Backstreet Grill operator and professional chef Chris Cordova.
Cordova’s hope was to keep the business operational, continue to serve quality food to a loyal customer base, and be an example to other Albuquerque businesses who defied the governor’s mask mandate.
As for any future fines, taxes, and court fees — “the state won’t get any of it,” Cordova said. The LLC will file bankruptcy, the owners are leaving town, and Cordova will be starting fresh in the Sunshine State.
Politics was never the point.
From the very beginning, Cordova just didn’t buy into masking. He wasn’t afraid of the virus and didn’t consider it any more threatening than a seasonal flu, so he simply went about his business.
He thought it was ridiculous to force patrons to wear a mask from the door to their table, only to breath freely while they ate and drank, as if Coronavirus won’t get you as long as you’re seated. And so he never enforced the mandates.
He allowed indoor dining when the state said not to, and he gave his patrons and staff the choice of whether or not to mask.
It was ironic but not surprising that none of his employees, given the choice, chose to wear a mask.
“It’s not that we ‘decided’ to defy, it’s just that we never placed any kind of emphasis on it in the first place,” Cordova told New Mexico Rising in May.
The day before Backstreet Grill closed its doors for good, Cordova’s wife voiced sharp criticisms of the public health agencies for pushing a vaccine without addressing the underlying health issues that actually put people at risk of suffering the virus’ worst effects (mainly fitness and overall health).
But their peaceful and common sense non-compliance didn’t last.
Even after a restraining order failed to sway them and the mask mandates were (temporarily) lifted, the legal battle continued.
For those beating the drum of compliance and celebrating the state’s abuse of power, the fact that the courts couldn’t close Backstreet Grill because of its mask defiance should be eye-opening.
There is no law requiring masks, which means there’s also no enforcement mechanism on the books to shut down a business for refusing to enforce masking of its staff and patrons.
Instead of pursuing the mask mandate, the state pulled Backstreet’s food permit, despite a clear inspection history and no health violations on record.
“[T]hey have never denied entrance of inspection officials for the express purpose of routine food safety inspections, and they have never been in violation of any food safety ordinance,” one of Cordova’s attorneys, Ana Garner of New Mexico Stands Up, said in a press release.
“They have firmly requested the city’s food safety officials (from the environmental health department) leave the premises when said officials showed up to try to get Backstreet Grill to enforce the mask mandate, and they refused to allow officials to harass their loyal, paying customers.”
Garner said Sunday to a crowd of patrons that the governor is abusing the power of the office and violating actual law by continually extending the 30-day “public health emergency,” without any clear evidence of an emergency. She said the law requires the governor to call an emergency legislative session and hand power back to state lawmakers.
“There’s no public health emergency. Because it’s all based on a fraud.”
She cited the New Mexico Constitution, which states that
“Upon the declaration of a disaster emergency the chief executive of the state shall within seven days call a special session of the legislature which shall remain in continuous session during the disaster emergency, and may recess from time to time for [not] more than three days.” — New Mexico State Constitution
The governor’s failure to return the power to the people’s house makes the “public emergency” moot, she argued. Without an actual law — either from any state legislature or from the United States Congress — the state had no power to enforce the mandate.
Which is why they went after Backstreet Grill’s food permit.
“Chris knew the masks were just the first step of this tyranny,” Garner told The Conservative New Mexican. “He knew that if they capitulated to the masks, there would be the next thing, like forcing your employees to get the dangerous jab.”
As an example of how the goalposts have moved, the governor set a June 17, 2021 deadline to get 60% of the state fully vaccinated as a condition of re-opening in time to enjoy the Independence Day holiday. New Mexico missed that deadline, but the governor re-opened anyway.
Here we are nearly three months later with 68% of the state fully vaccinated against COVID, and the mandates are back. When the vaccinations were first rolling out and health officials were optimistic about the likelihood of getting significant proportions of the population vaccinated, the figure they threw around to reach “herd immunity” was “at least 70%.”
While we’re on the cusp of that 70% number, any reasonable person would assume that as more people get vaccinated, the number of cases would fall. In fact, the opposite has happened. The closer we get to “herd immunity” the higher the case count.
More than 68% of New Mexicans are fully vaccinated, and 78% have at least one shot, but the state has nearly seven times more cases today than it did a year ago, and there have been as many cases in the first week of September (840) as there were in the third week of January when virtually no one in the state was vaccinated.
Which is to say that Cordova was right. And as the state registers more cases despite increased vaccination, skepticism of the effectiveness of COVID vaccines is rising.
The question now is, what’s next?
Garner clarified that Backstreet Grill was never actually fined. After being notified of a food permit “violation” businesses have five days to cure the issue and call for another inspection. But because the “violation” wasn’t related to sanitation, product rotation, or any of the items inspectors look for during a health inspection, there was nothing to cure.
“This provision does not help at all with respect to somebody exercising their Constitutional rights to defy an illegal mandate, which was what Chris was doing by refusing to enforce the mask mandate for employees,” Garner said.
They quote-unquote “lost” the case only because the judge “refused to look at underlying reasons for suspension and revocation of the permit.”
While Backstreet Grill could have appealed and fought it on Constitutional grounds in a higher court, the owners and management team decided to move on.
“They’re leaving New Mexico because this has left such a bad taste in their mouth,” Garner said.
Backstreet Grill wasn’t a hard restaurant to support. The staff is friendly and always seemed genuinely happy to see you. The margaritas were top notch. The food was delicious. And Cordova was always on hand, either helping in the kitchen (trained chefs can’t help it), bringing out drinks, or just checking on customers to ask about the quality of service.
While Backstreet Grill may be no more, the legal battle over forced masking continues.
Garner and law partner Jonathan Diener are suing the governor and public health secretary Kathy Kunkel in federal court over several aspects of the governor’s illegal mandate. They look forward not only to a resolution in accordance with state and federal law, but to helping companies move away from the current model for doing business.
“The system is broken,” Garner said, so while they will continue to fight on Constitutional grounds, she is also looking at how businesses can use private memberships to avoid the legal battles that public amenities face.
She encouraged any business that is tired of the mandates or that is being harassed by the state to call her. “If you get fined,” she said, “you call me.”
“We will get through it,” Garner said Sunday. “This is part of our awakening.”
Visit New Mexico Stands Up for more information.