Board upholds revoking restaurants' liquor licenses

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Lawrenceville Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday unanimously denied appeals by owners of two restaurants to restore their alcohol beverage licenses.

The licenses for European Sports Bar & Grill at 219 Gwinnett Drive and El Rinconsito No. 2 at 198 Scenic Highway were revoked by the city clerk during hearings Dec. 31 after the restaurants failed audits of their records.

Both restaurants had previously been cited for minor violations of the city's alcoholic beverage ordinance resulting in their being selected for the audits.

Rinconsito lost is license to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks. The European Sports Bar & Grill's license had allowed it to sell beer and wine.

With the revocations, the city served notice that restaurants must adhere to regulations and maintain detailed records to keep their licenses to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption.

Alcoholic beverages licenses are "a privilege not a right," said Lawrenceville Planning Director Brad Leonard, who represented the city during the ZBA hearings.

"The audits just started, and we plan to audit every alcohol-selling or serving establishment in the city," Leonard said. An independent auditor hired by the city conducted the initial audits last year.

The city's alcohol beverage license requires that restaurants with 100 or more seats sell an equal amount of food and alcoholic beverages. The audit of Rinconsito's April daily receipts, Leonard said, showed 46 percent food sales and 54 percent alcoholic beverage sales. The owner could not produce all of the other required records, he said.

Also at question was whether Rinconsito was open six days a week and served at least two meals daily. "The restaurant did not appear to be open during daytime hours," Leonard said.

Owner Norma J. Casillas maintained that the restaurant did comply with the balanced food/alcoholic beverage sales requirement. Some of the receipts that were audited may have been misread because they are in Spanish, she said.

Casillas also said that the restaurant was open every day except Tuesday. Her remarks, delivered in Spanish, were translated by her daughter.

European Sports Bar & Grill was unable to produce daily receipts that divided food and beverage sales, Leonard said. Some of the other required records were not available for the audit, he said.

Attorney Paul Andrew, who represented the European Sports Bar & Grill and its owner Senad Avdic, appealed to the ZBA to reinstate the restaurant's alcoholic beverage license because it would mean loss of revenue and jobs. The restaurant has been in business since 2004, Andrew said.

Andrew said that the alcoholic beverage ordinance is complex and difficult for people for whom English is a second language to comprehend.

"He (the owner) didn't understand he needed a breakout of food and alcohol sales," he said. "He has them now."

The restaurant now purchases its alcoholic beverages only from wholesalers, Andrew said. Some of the alcoholic beverages served at the restaurant in the past apparently had been bought at Sam's Club.

Twisters on Hurricane Shoals Road, a third restaurant that had its alcoholic beverage license revoked by the city in December, did not file an appeal with the ZBA.

Restaurants whose alcoholic beverages licenses are revoked may not reapply for two years.