CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:31 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021, to correct the name of Doc Holidays in the headline.
The Chattanooga Beer & Wrecker Board went almost 14 months without hearing a violation case because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it heard four cases on Thursday.
In two of its cases, it handed out similar penalties to what the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which governs wine and alcohol sales, had given the restaurants which it had found guilty of serving to minors on numerous occasions.
It handed out a 30-day suspension beginning Aug. 16 to the Cheesecake Factory at Hamilton Place after agents found that the restaurant sold alcohol to a minor on four occasions. The city's beer board often works in conjunction with state alcohol regulators on things like server certifications and punishments and voted unanimously to also suspend beer sales at the restaurant for 30 days during the same time period.
Special Agent Travis Patton with the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission said it is the commission's policy to return to an establishment within 90 days of a violation and found the Cheesecake Factory in violation on May 28, 2020, Aug. 18, 2020, Oct. 27, 2020 and Jan. 22, 2021. A warning was issued after the first, but a mandatory $1,500 fine was issued for the second. A $10,000 fine was issued after the fourth. A manager was found to have been one of the servers who sold alcohol to at least one of the minors, according to Officer Patton.
An attorney from Nashville representing the restaurant group spoke to the board apologizing for the violations and assured them the company takes such matters seriously and has fired several people involved in the incidents and put others on probation and required additional training.
Board member Chris Keene took exception to the fact that no one in management or ownership from the Cheesecake group appeared at the meeting in light of the severity and number of violations.
"I think it is a slap in the face to this board that you come into our town with this new restaurant and sell to minors and don't come here in person," he said.
The TABC also found that Alex Thai Food and Sushi Bistro sold alcohol to minors on Nov. 18, 2020 and again on April 30, 2021. The TABC had already suspended alcohol sales at the restaurant on Main Street beginning on May 24, so the Beer Board suspended beer sales there for the same number of days beginning June 28.
Doc Holiday's Bar and Grill on Ashland Terrace had its license suspended for 10 days beginning July 1 for allowing an employee or owner to drink or be intoxicated on the premises. Officer Jacob Simpson told the board he was dispatched to the club after a caller said that owner Raulston Combs was on the premises and intoxicated.
Simpson said he'd been to the club on four other occasions on similar calls, and had noted that in his opinion, Combs did appear to have been drinking, though he told the officer he had been drinking at home and returned to handle needed business.
Combs said he admitted to the officer that he'd had one beer and part of another while at home on the night in question, but had returned to the club to make change for staff. Combs and his attorney argued that Combs was not intoxicated that night and was in fact drinking water at the club. They also pointed out he has diabetic neuropathy and that it can hinder his walking.
The board voted to suspend the license for 10 days beginning July 1.
The final violation of the meeting involved Alan Gold's night club, which was found to be in violation of overcrowding on Feb. 22, 2020. Officer John Collins told the board the club was certified at the time to have no more than 201 people, including staff, in the building at one time.
After emptying the place out and counting the number of people who came outside, Collins said there had been 324 inside. He recommended to the bar's manager that she go back to the county to appeal that number, which she did and the occupancy rate was upped to 251.
He also recommended hiring a licensed security agency and using a second clicker to count the number of people who leave, in addition to the number who enter to keep a better count.
She told the board those changes had been implemented.
Board member Trevor Atchley pointed out that overcrowding is something the board has to take "very seriously for safety reasons."
The board gave the club a three-day suspension beginning July 1.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
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