Life comes at you fast. One minute you’re creating “mask-free zones” at your coffee shop and the next minute you’re having to close down entirely. Thus has been the public rise and fall of Helbach’s Coffee Roasters and Kitchen in Middleton, Wisconsin, just outside Madison.
The coffee company made national headlines in July when a sign was posted at the cafe designating it a “mask-free zone,” which owner Casey Helbach originally denied posting to a local news outlet before admitting ok yeah they had posted the sign, but it was a “misrepresentation of [their] policy” and that their policy is in fact no policy at all.
At the time of the sign posting, Dane County—where Helbach’s resides—was under a mask ordinance requiring facial coverings to be worn in public at all times. As you can probably guess, the Madison & Dane County Public Health office took umbrage with posting and issued citations to Helbach’s totaling just under $900 for openly flouting public health guidelines; a notice of intent to revoke its food and drink license was also issued. So in true freedom fighting fashion, Helbach’s decided to sue the city. In a GoFundMe created to raise $50,000 to fight the $900 in fines, owner Casey Helbach states:
Madison & Dane County Public Health is trying to impose on us its illegal Order #8. Madison & Dane County Public Health Order #8 requires all persons in public and private business to wear facial coverings. Helbachs believes that this order is unlawful and should be opposed in court. We are not against the public's safety but rather against Madison & Dane County Public Health infringing on our constitutional rights.
In the suit, Helbach’s argues that the sign was “protected free speech, it was only up for 30 minutes, and was not enforced,” per NBC15, and that “it was intended as purely a statement of disagreement with Government policy.” But as is the common refrain, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences from that speech.
In an Instagram post on Friday, Helbach’s announced that they will be closing their doors at the end of August because their landlord opted to not renew their lease, with the coffee shop stating the non-renewal is “due to the enforcement actions, negative public statements, and continued vindictive and hostile behavior towards Helbachs Coffee taken by Public Health Madison & Dane County.”
With no coffee shop left to fight for, one can but hope that Casey Helbach will drop his petty squabbles with with a governing body trying to curb the spread of a disease that has to date infected 5.7 millions Americans—killing nearly 180,000—and will use the over $15,000 raised on the GoFundMe to instead provide some financial assistance to his staff while they seek alternative gainful employment. It's the best we can hope for at this point.