Three Oak Ridge businesses have avoided short suspensions of their beer permits, but five more have hearings in the next two months.
The Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board had imposed the suspensions against the three businesses in three separate meetings during the past three months. Two were punished for selling beer to a minor and one over concerns that included questions about whether it was serving its customers too much alcohol.
But all three businesses have complied with the Beer Board’s orders, so they were able to avoid the suspensions, Oak Ridge Senior Staff Attorney Tammy Dunn said last week.
Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill paid a $2,500 civil penalty in lieu of a five-day suspension for its second sale of beer to a minor in a three-year period. Back 2 Brewski’s paid a $1,000 penalty and had to show that its employees and owner were trained in alcohol awareness to avoid a one-week suspension. And Lincoln’s Sports Grille has documented that its servers and bartenders are certified by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, allowing them to avoid a one-week suspension, Dunn said.
The penalties against Applebee’s and Back 2 Brewski’s were approved by the Beer Permit Board in July and August, and the board approved the Lincoln’s suspension in a 3-0-1 vote during a Sept. 9 show cause hearing.
Applebee’s and Lincoln’s were among seven establishments cited for selling alcohol to a minor in a March compliance check, or “sting,” by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The other five establishments were Aubrey’s, Hacienda DeGollado, Hidalgo, Moose Lodge, and Ruby Tuesday.
Beer Board member Theresa Scott said Hacienda DeGollado and Moose Lodge did not check identification before selling beer to a minor, and the board called an Oct. 14 show cause hearing for them.
The other three businesses will have a Nov. 18 hearing. The board can suspend or revoke a beer permit during a show cause hearing.
The Beer Board’s approval of suspensions, or other penalties in lieu of suspensions, appears to have frustrated business owners. Their opposition to the suspensions have ranged from arguments that they’ve already been punished by the state and lost thousands of dollars in revenue, or taken the initiative to call the police when necessary.
After the show cause hearing for Lincoln’s last week, owner Scott Green said it was the restaurant’s first offense for selling beer to a minor, and there have been no incidents since. The server who sold the beer was in training, made a mistake, and was immediately fired, Green said. The restaurant paid fines, and servers now have to have state ABC training before they start training at Lincoln’s, Green said.
“We have a no-tolerance policy for underage serving,” Green said.
But Beer Board members said the March beer sale to a minor at Lincoln’s came one week after a show cause hearing called after a February fight and large disturbance at the restaurant. During the March hearing, Lincoln’s said it was doing a good job, Beer Board members said.
Green said the two incidents were not related.
The eight show cause hearings in six months is unusually high. Two show cause hearings per year is about normal, Beer Permit Board Chair Randy Tedford said.
Beer Board members have said they want to ensure beer permit holders are following the rules and not overserving customers.
One of the issues recently brought to the board’s attention is that the state hasn’t typically notified the city about an establishment’s first offense of selling beer to a minor. They have, however, notified the city about a second offense within a three-year period. The Beer Board would like to change that. They recommended that the Oak Ridge City Council change the city ordinance to require beer permit holders to notify the city if they violate TABC statutes.