The Harford County Liquor Control Board issued a combined $2,000 in fines Wednesday to four area businesses that failed recent compliance tests and sold alcohol to an underage police cadet.
The businesses fined include The Greene Turtle and Grumpy’s Bar & Grille, both in Aberdeen, and Cheers Wine & Spirits and Rainbow King, both of Bel Air.
The liquor license holders for each establishment appeared before the liquor board for show cause hearings at the board’s headquarters in downtown Bel Air Wednesday afternoon.
Liquor board Inspector Louis Reichart conducted the tests Dec. 29, 2017 and March 16 with the Maryland State Police and underage MSP cadets.
The cadets — Noah Bane for the December tests and Evan Johnson for the March tests — were instructed to enter the business, accompanied by a trooper, and order a drink if at a restaurant or get a beverage from the cooler if at a retail store.
Servers and clerks did not ask the cadets for identification in any of the cases adjudicated Wednesday, according to reports Reichart read into the record.
Board chair C. John Sullivan Jr. said he finds that “unacceptable.”
“You all need to do a better job with your servers,” he told the licensees.
Thirteen businesses were inspected Dec. 29, and six failed, including Rainbow King, Cheers, the Black Forest Taphouse in Fallston, the Old School Tavern in Street, Tutto Fresco in Forest Hill and India Garden in Bel Air.
Sixteen businesses were checked March 16, and seven failed, including Grumpy’s, The Greene Turtle, JD’s Smokehouse in Bel Air, Backfin Blues: Creole De Graw in Havre de Grace, Northside Liquors in Aberdeen, Anchor Liquors in Belcamp and Riverside Pizzeria in Belcamp.
He encouraged them to “reach out to us,” that Reichart is available to help with Alcohol Awareness training for staff.
Cheers Wine & Spirits
The operators of Cheers Wine & Spirits were charged with three offenses, including selling alcohol to a minor, having an employee under 18 serving an alcoholic beverage and failure to cooperate with liquor board representatives.
Licensee Ranjit Singh appeared with Bel Air attorney Thomas Wintz Jr. Singh’s co-licensee, Amarjeet Kaur, could not attend; Singh said she was tending to a family member who had been hospitalized. Gracia told him and Wintz that Kaur’s failure to appear meant an automatic $250 fine.
Sullivan, the board chair, gave the go-ahead to proceed with the hearing.
Cheers was tested at around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2017. Bane, the cadet, took a six-pack of beer from the cooler. The clerk sold it to him without asking for identification, according to the inspector’s report.
Reichart and MSP Sgt. Zi Shum spoke with Singh, the on-duty manager and licensee and told him they needed to see the clerk’s identification. The clerk, who turned out to be Singh’s 17-year-old son, looked at Singh and first said he did not have his identification. He told Shum he was 20 years old when the sergeant asked his age. Shum continued to discuss the matter with Singh and the clerk, and Singh eventually said the clerk is his son.
Shum said criminal charges could be filed if Singh’s son did not cooperate, and the youth showed his driver’s license after his father gave “a nod of his head,” according to the report.
The license showed the clerk is 17 years old, according to the inspector’s report.
Police stated Singh had been present during the sale, although his attorney disputed that account, producing an email exchange between him and Judith Powell, the liquor board’s special projects coordinator, the same afternoon as the compliance test. Wintz indicated the exchange showed Singh had not been present at the time of the test.
Wintz and Powell had been exchanging emails and photos throughout the afternoon regarding Singh’s project to shift his business from its location in the Tollgate Marketplace shopping center in the 600 block of East Baltimore Pike to a new facility in the 100 block of North Tollgate Road. He and Singh had been in the Tollgate Road location around the time of the test.
“His son happened to be the only person there [for the test],” Wintz said.
Reichart, who was there for the test, stood by the police account that Singh was standing by the counter during the sale. Singh told police he had been in the office reviewing paperwork, according to the report.
“I must have just gotten there, then,” Singh told the board.
Wintz said he was not making excuses for the violation, and that Singh’s son is not a paid employee, but he comes by after school to help at the business.
Singh acknowledged “bad timing” and “poor judgement.”
“The law is the law,” he said.
The board issued a $500 fine for selling alcohol to a minor, $250 for allowing someone under 18 to sell alcohol and a $250 administrative charge for the second licensee’s failure to appear.
The board did not find Cheers in violation for failing to cooperate with the board.
“We do not believe there is enough sufficient evidence to find them guilty,” Sheryl Davis Kohl, the board’s vice chair, said.
Joseph Sliwka, the resident licensee for Rainbow King, an Asian bistro in the Bel Air Town Center, and owner Weirong Jiang, appeared for their hearing.
The business was also tested on Dec. 29. Bane ordered a bottle of beer after being seated at a table, and the server did not ask for his identification, according to the inspector’s report.
Sliwka said the server, who was a new employee, had been let go, and the message made clear to the rest of the staff to ask for identification when serving alcohol.
“They all know now that they have a chance of losing their job,” he said.
The Rainbow King’s liquor license was issued in March 2017, and the failure was their first violation, according to Gracia. They had to appear for the hearing since their license was less than a year old at the time, she said.
Kohl made a motion for a $250 fine on one count of selling alcohol to a minor, since it was a first offense. Her colleagues approved.
Sullivan recused himself from the vote on Rainbow King. He has known Sliwka socially for a number of years, Gracia said later. Sullivan did vote on the three other cases.
Grumpy’s Bar & Grille
Grumpy’s Bar & Grille, of Aberdeen, was tested March 16. Johnson, the cadet, ordered and was served a glass of Miller Lite beer. He reported the server did not ask for identification.
The licensee, Vickie Keithley, said she did not terminate the server, though.
“We are a small business, and most of my employees are like family to me,” Keithley said.
She said she brought the server, Pamela Jollymore, to the hearing “because I want her to see how serious this is.”
Keithley said she plans to do Alcohol Awareness training with all of her staff in the coming months.
Grumpy’s had been fined and its license was suspended after a violation in 2014, according to Gracia.
The board fined the business $500 for one count of serving alcohol to a minor.
Greene Turtle licensees Robert Frankis, Jonathan Gettle and Michael Venanzi appeared for their hearing. The Aberdeen restaurant was tested March 16.
Johnson was served a bottle of beer and the server did not ask for identification.
It was the first violation, according to the licensees. They operate eight establishments in Delaware and Maryland, including the Greene Turtle restaurants in Aberdeen and Bel Air and Humagalas in the former DuClaw Brewing Co. in Bel Air South.
“In 11 years, we’ve served millions of drinks a year; we are real proactive when it comes to TIPS certification,” Frankis said, referring to the Training for Intervention ProcedureS program for employees of businesses that sell alcohol.
The server has been terminated, and the staff has gone through two TIPS training sessions since the test, Venanzi said. He is working to be a TIPS trainer himself “so we can do it more expediently and on a smaller scale.”
The percentage of staff with TIPS training can shift because of regular staff turnover in the restaurant industry, Venanzi noted.
“This is the first violation of any kind we have had, and we are doing everything we can to make it the last,” he said.
The board fined Greene Turtle $250 for serving alcohol to a minor.