Hearings for violations of the Chattanooga beer code were put on hold last year due to the difficulties caused by remote meetings of the beer board during the COVID pandemic. Beer Inspector Officer John Collins with the Chattanooga Police Department told the City Beer Board on Thursday that prior to the pandemic cases were brought to the board in a timely manor and now he is trying to get caught up. That is the reason some of the violations occurred over a year ago.
Five violations for serving beer to customers who were underage occurred at the Cheesecake Factory, 2084 Hamilton Place Blvd., from May 2020 through June 2021. They were all heard as one at the Beer Board meeting. All the violations stemmed from compliance checks made by the TABC (Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission) which issues its own penalties after which the cases are referred to the Beer Board. Agent Travis Patten with the TABC told the board that the first violation, which occurred on May 28, 2020, and the second, which occurred on Aug. 18, 2020, were both for take-out orders. The third violation on Oct. 27, 2020, was a dine-in violation and the fourth and fifth, that took place on Jan. 22, 2021, were customers sitting at the bar. A fifth compliance check was made at the restaurant in 2020 where no violation was found.
Some of the servers involved in the illegal sales checked Id's and some did not and one server did not have a permit to sell alcohol, and one was a senior manager.
Attorney Brant Phillips, representing Cheesecake Factory, told the board that he was at the meeting to say “I’m sorry,” and that both he and the company are embarrassed. There are 12 locations across Tennessee and this is the first time for a violation. “We had a serious breakdown,” he said. All servers involved were terminated and the manager was put through remedial training and placed on probation. The business agreed to a 30-day suspension, to pay a fine of $10,000 to the state and to a probation period of 180 days. And all front house staff at this location is going through remedial TABC training.
The Beer Board must mirror the 30-day suspension of the TABC suspension that will begin on Aug. 16 and will run concurrently with the TABC suspension.
Alex Thai Food & Sushi Bistro, 26 E. Main St., also had violations for serving minors on two occasions, the first on Nov. 18, 2020, and the second on April 30, 2021. Agent Patten told the board that at one of the compliance checks, the server had no permit to sell alcohol and at the second the underage sale took place even though the ID was checked. Both were at curbside to-go sales which has been allowed by executive order from the governor because of COVID. The penalties given by TABC were to suspend the license for five days and fines of $650 for the November offense and $5,150 for the second violation on April 30. The Beer Board has to give the same suspension as the TABC, which will be for five days beginning Monday, June 28.
Alan Gold’s, 1100 McCallie Ave., was at the board meeting for violation of overcrowding that happened Feb. 22, 2020. Officer Collins was conducting a bar check around 12:45 p.m. when he said the crowd appeared too large for the capacity given by the fire marshal, which was 201 individuals. The officer ordered a “bar dump,” which is to empty the building. A clicker was used to count people leaving, which registered 324. After the incident, he said he suggested the owner contact the fire marshal to increase capacity, which was later revised to the current 251. He also suggested hiring a private security officer for the front door and using two clickers, one for those entering and another for those leaving to get an accurate count.
Officer Collins has been back to the bar twice since that night and there was no overcrowding. Although the manager did take corrective action, attorney Foster recommended not looking at mitigation that was done to determine the penalty. The board voted to give a three-day suspension of the beer license or to pay a $500 fine. If the suspension is chosen, it will begin July 1.
Doc Holiday’s Bar and Grill, 742 Ashland Terrace, was at the Beer Board for the fourth time since November 2019 when it received a letter of reprimand for allowing a server to consume alcohol while at the place she worked. The same violation for an incident on December 2019 was dismissed and a 10-day suspension was given for an intoxicated employee on Feb. 9, 2020.
The case before the board on Thursday was because a customer called the police to report that Raulston Lamar Combs, the owner, was at the bar and was intoxicated. Patrol Officer Jacob Simpson was dispatched to the location for the fifth time. He told the board that this is an on-going problem. Three of those calls were specifically for Mr. Combs being intoxicated, and he said that every time he had done a bar check, he found the owner under the influence. His answer is always that “I drink at home and then come to check on the bar.”
"He always tells me that he is drinking ice water," said Officer Simpson, "and one time I smelled the glass when he left it, and it was not water." Officer Simpson is also trained to detect intoxication by observation to determine the condition of a person, he told the board. On all five calls he has made to the bar, he said the owner was under the influence.
He has not done a sobriety test before the owner leaves, however, because the man always leaves with a friend driving. But he has no way of knowing how he gets there. There were two charges on Thursday, an employee/owner drinking on the premise of where they work and being intoxicated on the premise.
Some discussion occurred about the officer arriving with a pre-conceived notion of what he expected to find. And there was stronger evidence and more documentation for the prior four cases than the one that the board was hearing for the March 25 incident. Officer Collins replied that Officer Simpson had been dispatched specifically because the owner was under the influence. He also has been trained with observational skills to determine a person’s condition. Mr. Combs had also been given five warnings and the opportunity to conform to the laws.
The motion passed to issue a 10-day suspension of the beer license for Doc Holiday’s that will start on July 1.