Exit Signs Issue Leads To Possible Closure For Steelpan Restaurant; Sgt. Haskins Retiring At Beer Inspection Office

Thursday, December 19, 2013 - by Gail Perry

A small problem with a fire inspection issue led to a big problem for John D. Shoemaker, owner of Steelpan, a restaurant at 825 Houston St. Because of a change in ownership that occurred in May, the business was required to obtain a new beer license which, in turn, required new building, health and fire inspections. The restaurant, which serves Cuban food, would have received a beer permit if not for an issue with the exit signs that did not pass the fire codes, Sergeant Mark Haskins of the Chattanooga Police Department told members of the Chattanooga Beer Board Thursday morning. That problem needed to be corrected before a beer license could be issued.

Sgt. Haskins said he had made a point of telling the owner that because the restaurant did not yet have a permit, beer could not be sold. When he became aware that beer sales were continuing, on Dec. 5, Sgt. Haskins went to the restaurant in plain clothes and purchased a beer. A citation was then issued for selling beer without a license, which technically is a violation against the city since no valid beer license existed. As he was leaving that night, Sgt. Haskins said the business was complying by closing down the bar. That citation is pending in City Court and is set for January.

Mr. Shoemaker told the beer board that he holds a beer permit for another business, JJ’s Bohemia on MLK Boulevard, and that he had been issued a special events permit for Steelpan during the Bessie Smith Strut this summer. Despite being familiar with the beer codes, he continued to operate under the license held by the previous owner, blaming doing so on procrastination. He said he had "been busy running two businesses and let it slip through the cracks.”

For clarity, Vice Chairman Phillip Sallee asked Mr. Shoemaker why he had disregarded city codes and continued selling beer anyway for six months after being told it was not legal. "I have a staff in place and needed to keep them employed," he replied, in addition to his working 80 hours a week. “You’re digging a ditch for yourself, sir,” said board member Forestine Haynes.

A motion was approved to pass the application to the Jan. 16 beer board meeting with the condition that the old license be surrendered immediately.

Mr. Shoemaker commented that he would not be back for a permit because he would have to close the business down since it could not survive that long without being able to sell beer.

Three new restaurants were granted a consumer beer license. Cheddar’s Casual Restaurant at 2014 Gunbarrel Road, described as a “great value, casual dining restaurant serving large portions,” is part of a chain of restaurants based out of Kentucky and was unanimously approved.

Hillbilly Willy’s Bar-B-Que, 9203 Lee Highway, is the second location of this restaurant. It opened in October serving pork, brisket, chicken and ribs. The owner, Gerald Harwood, said to accommodate customer requests he was applying for a beer permit, but that the family-owned business closes at 8 p.m. and would not be considered a bar.

Opening date for Molcajete Mexican Restaurant, 6231 Perimeter Dr., Suite 127, is planned for Jan. 6. Adriana Sanchez was given a beer permit for the restaurant that will be open from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Sgt. Haskins, who has been in charge of matters relating to the Chattanooga Beer Board for the past 13 years and who has been with the Chattanooga Police Department for 29 years, is retiring before the first of the New Year. At his last beer board meeting, he introduced his hand-picked replacement, Sgt. Jeff Gaines, saying he was a “quiet, well-mannered, calm kind of guy” which is needed for this work.

At the final meeting of the year, the beer board members elected new officers for 2014. Phillip Sallee was elected to the position of chairman, Ron Smith to vice chairman, and Forestine Haynes to become the new secretary.

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