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Six Harford businesses fined for liquor law violations

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

3:24 PM EST, November 27, 2012

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Five Harford County restaurants and one liquor store were fined by the Harford County Liquor Control Board recently for various violations of the county's liquor laws.

Beards Hill Plaza Liquors and Carsins Run Grill in Aberdeen, Pat's Pizzeria in Edgewood and Open Door Café were all fined $1,000 for selling alcohol to a minor during a compliance test Sept. 27. The fine for Sequoia Mountain Branch Golf Course in Joppa was $2,000, higher because it has had more than one violation within five years.

Olive Tree restaurant in Aberdeen was fined $1,000 for not having its resident licensee on the premises the required amount of time, as well as $500 for not cooperating with representatives of the board.

Beards Hill Plaza Liquors

The store failed a compliance test on Sept. 27, when a cashier sold an underage employee of the liquor board alcohol, Chief Inspector Charles Robbins testified before the board during a hearing Nov. 14.

Licensee Andrew Klein didn't refute the facts and said he was "tremendously distressed" at the violation.

The registers at the store have an ID system for cashiers to swipe an individual's driver's license and validate it, he continued, and the cashier "bypassed that system." The employee was fired the day after the compliance test.

"I take this charge very, very seriously," Klein said. The store manager who was responsible for hiring and training the employees was also fired. "We can't afford violations like this to occur."

Carsins Run Grill

Robbins told the board that the underage employee was served a beer at Carsins Run Grill after the waitress requested his driver's license and inspected it.

Licensee Terry Cheung also agreed to the facts Robbins gave to the liquor board about the compliance test the same day.

"It was just a mistake she made," Cheung said, adding that the servers "miscalculated" the man's age after looking at his license.

Chairman Donald Hess asked Cheung if the server was aware that a vertical Maryland driver's license means that the person is younger than 21 years old and, therefore, the age didn't need to be calculated. She wasn't aware, Cheung responded.

Pat's Pizzeria

"We need to do a much better job," licensee Efstathios Kotanidis said in response to Robbins' testimony that the restaurant served alcohol to a minor and did not request identification.

Hess asked what are Kotanidis' instructions to employees about selling alcohol.

"Never serve without checking the driver's license," he said.

Mountain Branch Golf Course

Linda Carter was the lawyer for Keith Davis, general manager and resident licensee, and Timothy Dunlap, chief operations officer, for Mountain Branch Golf Course.

Robbins told the board that the bartender didn't request identification from the underage employee who requested a beer during a compliance test Sept. 27.

"We acknowledge that the incident occurred," Carter said, adding the bartender was "too busy watching a Ravens game" and didn't pay enough attention to the regulations.

The bartender, she continued, had training on the county and state's liquor laws and all servers are told to card anyone who looks younger than 40. In addition, there are daily shift meetings during which employees are reminded of this rule.

"We're doing a 100 percent, zero tolerance policy," Carter said, and the bartender was fired.

To prevent future violations, the business has adopted new policies, including a daily sign-in sheet that requires employees to read the state law and corporation rules and then sign their names to acknowledge they have read this and if they violate the rules they will be fired.

There will also be an incentive program that will reward employees with a $500 bonus when they successfully pass a compliance test.

Open Door Café

Licensees Robert Glock and Richard Bearch agreed to Robbins' statement that the server did not request identification from the underage employee during a compliance test.

The restaurant has had its license since 2006, Bearch said, and has "taken it very seriously."

Open Door Café has changed its policy on carding people who look younger than 40 years old to a "100 percent carding rule." Because of this, Bearch continued, some patrons have been insulted and the restaurant has lost business. The server was also disciplined.

Olive Tree

The Aberdeen restaurant was the only establishment not to appear before the board for serving alcohol to a minor.

The charge, instead, was failing to have the resident licensee on the premises the required amount of time between January and September and failing to cooperate with the board.

Melvin Kodenski, who represented the restaurant, told the board that Olive Tree's resident licensee, Kalliopi Hapsis, has dealt with serious health issues all her life, including being diagnosed with cancer this year and having two surgeries in the last three months.

Vice chair Sandi Tunney asked Robbins how many times he had visited the establishment during that period to see if Hapsis was there.

Robbins wasn't sure of the exact number of times, but rattled off several days in September, January, June, March and July — at least a dozen dates, he said. To his knowledge, there had been no attempts to correct the problem.

Inspector Danielle Markette also visited the restaurant numerous times and gave verbal warnings on more than one occasion.

Kodenski suggested to the board that Hapsis submit a schedule of times she would be at the restaurant so Robbins or Markette could visit when she said she would be there.

"It wasn't like she was ignoring the situation," Kodenski said. As for cooperating with the board, "it was more because of the health issues than anything else."

"We are here to work with the licensees," Hess said, and would have worked with the business to avoid getting to the point of violation.

Administrator Kathryn Thess informed the board that they have worked with the business to correct the issues and was promised a schedule in July, which they never received.

"The board has tried to help out," she said.