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Wisconsin Coffee Roaster Preparing Legal Battle Over Mask Ordinance

City County building Madison

The City-County building in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, home to the Madison and Dane County Department of Public Health. Daily Coffee News photo.

Officials in Dane County, Wisconsin, have signaled their intention to revoke a coffee roasting and retail company’s food and drink license for repeatedly flouting a mask ordinance.

It is the most high-profile case to date of a United States coffee shop opposing mask mandates designed to slow down the spread of COVID-19, which as of this writing has infected 4.83 million Americans and killed more than 159,000, including nearly 1,000 dead in Wisconsin.

The business in question, Helbachs Coffee Roasters in the Madison suburb of Middleton, has launched a Gofundme campaign called the “Freedom Fund” to cover expenses for a legal challenge against multiple citations and to “fight for our constitutional rights for freedom.” The organizers also say they plan to file a separate lawsuit against the county if funding permits. As of this writing, the fund had reached nearly $9,000.

Members of the Helbach family were also behind the “Jesus Lunch” movement that was equally controversial among the Middleton High School community beginning in 2014.

The Helbachs opened the first Helbachs coffee shop in Madison in 2016. That shop closed permanently in June. The company’s roastery cafe in Middleton, which opened in 2019, remains.

On July 13, the same day a county-wide ordinance went into effect requiring face coverings at businesses, a widely circulated Facebook photo showed a sign posted to the door of Helbachs stating that it was a “mask free zone.” It also read, “Please remove mask before entering.”

While not contesting the veracity of the posted sign, the Helbachs Gofundme contends that the “sign was a misrepresentation of our policy because we have no facial covering (mask) policy.”

Both the Gofundme and a formal notice from the Madison and Dane County Public Health Department outline a series of attempts by local officials to either warn the Helbachs owners about pending citations due to non-compliance or to visit the shop to educate them about the ordinance, required signage and public safety.

County health officials have cited incidents on five different dates since July 13 in which Helbachs employees were either observed not wearing face masks, asked customers to remove masks, and/or were defiant against officials’ attempts to educate the business on the public safety ordinance.

A hearing on the revocation of Helbachs food and drink license is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25.

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