Council suspends 2 liquor licenses

Cantina opts for harshest penalty

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The liquor licences of two Steamboat Springs businesses were suspended Thursday as punishment for failing an alcohol compliance check last year. However, the owner of one of the establishments made his punishment harsher than what was recommended during the show-cause hearing at Centennial Hall.

Instead of agreeing to a five-day liquor license suspension with four of the days held in abeyance, Cantina owners Jeff and Kristi Brown told City Council members they would serve all five days of the suspension.

Jeff Brown said his decision was not made to spite the council --hich serves as the city's liquor licensing authority --ut because he didn't want those additional four days to be enforced during the busier tourist season if his restaurant violates another liquor law.

Because of the Browns' decision, Cantina will not serve alcohol from April 17 to 21.

"I can do everything I can to prevent or deter my employees from serving alcohol to a minor, but I can't ensure I won't ever have another violation. It was too much of a risk -- a financially devastating risk -- to have those fours days hanging over us," Jeff Brown said.

The other business punished Thursday was the Fireside Bar in the Holiday Inn. The bar's liquor license will be suspended for seven days, with five of the days held in abeyance. The bar is operated by Family Restaurants Inc.

Michael Scott, director of operations for the Fireside Bar, did not contest the compliance check and thanked the City Council for its efforts to punish businesses that violate liquor laws.

"I think it's fantastic that, as a community, you all are working so hard to curb (underage drinking). I'd rather serve my sentence than a young person drink at our bar and get into more trouble elsewhere," Scott said.

Scott also told the council he fired the bartender who sold alcohol to the minor and that he explained to his employees that such behavior is not acceptable.

"I hired a professional bartender. I expected him to be exactly that. I terminated him the day I found out about it. I have no tolerance for that," he said.

The penalties were recommended by a team consisting of City Clerk Julie Jordan, police Capt. Joel Rae and city staff attorney Dan Foote. The penalties stipulate that businesses serve their suspensions on consecutive days similar to the days the businesses were cited. Cantina and the Fireside Bar will serve one day of their suspensions on April 21, a Friday, because they were cited Dec. 16, also a Friday.

Fireside's days in abeyance will not be served unless the business is cited during the next year for failing another compliance check or other liquor law.

Thursday's hearing was part of a new process established so the council can better regulate and punish businesses that sell alcohol to underage buyers. Under a new ordinance, the council can fine businesses or suspend their liquor licenses for violations of liquor laws or compliance check failures.

The ordinance was passed after a September alcohol compliance check during which nine of 11 businesses sold alcohol to an underage person who was cooperating with police.

In March, Steamboat Dis--count Liquors and Dos Amigos accepted plea offers in their cases. Steamboat Discount Liquors was given a 10-day suspension with seven days held in abeyance, and Dos Amigos was given a five-day suspension with three days held in abeyance.

Market on the Mountain and Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant are scheduled to appear before the City Council at Noon May 4. They will be the last two businesses that failed a December compliance check to appear before the council.

On Thursday, the Browns told council members about the additional steps they have taken to deter their employees from selling alcohol to minors. They said those steps include random, in-house compliance checks and additional staff training.

The Browns said they didn't think the punishment they were offered was appropriate because they never had failed a compliance check at either of their two downtown restaurants. In addition to the Cantina, the Browns own Mambo Italiano.

"We felt like not only was (the compliance check failure) unintentional, but that we took many, many steps to prevent it," Jeff Brown said.

After deliberating for about 30 minutes, City Council President Ken Brenner told the Browns the decision would not be changed because the council is trying to send a message to Steamboat's bars and restaurants.

Council member Loui Antonucci said, "Several months ago, (the City Council) took a no-tolerance stand because we knew compliance was out of control. Our intent is to cut down on underage drinking and solve a major problem that is facing this community. A law broken is a law broken."

Brenner told Jeff Brown that Cantina serves as a model for how businesses should train employees in proper liquor handling but that he could not overlook the fact that it failed a compliance check.

Brown said he was disappointed with the council's decision and thinks that punishing an entire establishment is not fair to the employees who did nothing wrong. Those employees lose money from not being able to serve alcohol. Brown also said it's unfair to punish business owners who properly train their employees. They also suffer because of the mistake of a single worker.

"I think it's the inherent unfairness of closing someone down," he said.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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