|By Chris Maza|
LONGMEADOW – On Dec. 3, Ume Asian Bistro began serving a six-day liquor license suspension that will extend through the weekend after getting caught serving alcohol to minors for the second time in three months.
The establishment has been open at the former Friendly’s at the Longmeadow Shops for less than a year.
The Select Board issued the punishment at its Nov. 18 meeting, however, the execution was held off until this week at the suggestion of Selectman Alex Grant, who didn’t believe the restaurant would receive enough business on the week of Thanksgiving for the punishment to be effective.
In spite of the two violations, at its Dec. 2 meeting, the Select Board voted 4-1 in favor of renewing the Ume’s liquor license, effective January 2014, along with those of 13 other establishments. Selectman Paul Santaniello issued the negative vote.
Police Lt. Gary Fontaine told the board at its Nov. 18 meeting that on Aug. 7 he performed a compliance check utilizing an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old as agents, who were served beer at the bar.
“[The bartender] said, ‘Oh no. Not again,’ and said they looked like they were 25,” he said.
Fontaine noted that Ume was one of several compliance checks that evening and Ume was the only one that failed.
He also pointed out that earlier this year, Ume also failed a compliance check conducted by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
As part of the ramifications of that infraction, the restaurant was issued a three-day license revocation by the state that was suspended, provided they did not commit another violation. That suspension was automatically activated, however, neither the board nor Town Manager Stephen Crane knew when it would be served.
Haian Lin, the attorney representing Hang Zhang Huang, who owns Ume, as well as the Ichiban restaurant in South Hadley, said his client did not dispute any of the facts presented by Fontaine.
He said the actions by the bartender did not reflect the policies of the restaurant and that her employment had been terminated because of the incident. In addition, regular meetings with bartenders and wait staff are now conducted to ensure that all patrons are asked for identification prior to being served.
“We ask for the mercy of the board,” he said.
Santaniello pushed for a six-day suspension that would occur on three consecutive Fridays and Saturdays, stating it was important to send a message not only to Ume, but to all who hold liquor licenses in town.
“I think with the exception of one establishment, since I’ve been on the board and since we’ve been doing compliance checks, there isn’t one place that hasn’t been caught selling to underage business, whether it’s a package store or a restaurant,” he said. “We’ve had it with consistency.”
He added he was “disappointed” with Ume’s ownership partially because Huang already had experience running a dining establishment before coming to Longmeadow.
He also reminded the board that he initially opposed an additional liquor license for Ume because he felt there were too many and still held that opinion.
Santaniello’s motion didn’t receive a second and Grant proposed a four-day suspension that would include one weekend, stating he felt Santaniello’s suggestion was too harsh.
“I’m suggesting four days, Mr. Santaniello just talked about six, and there might not be a big difference there, but there does seem to be a big difference if you’re talking about three Fridays and Saturdays. I think that feels a little heavy,” he said, adding he believed the infraction was an accident.
Santaniello responded by pointing out that every violator that has come before the board has claimed it was an accident and it wouldn’t happen again and his motion was intentionally severe.
“It’s supposed to be impactful,” he said. “I want it to be painful so they know that they don’t ever want to serve a minor again.”
He went on to say that the infractions taking place in such a short period of time was a part of his decision to suggest such a strong punishment.
Selectman Mark Gold, looking to strike a compromise, suggested a five-day suspension, stating he found the violations “disconcerting,” but added he was “mindful of the difference between impactful and overly punitive.”
Selectman Richard Foster said he was “disturbed by these two violations,” but said he thought forcing the restaurant to serve the suspension on three consecutive weekends was “more punitive and corrective,” and suggested the punishment of six consecutive days, including one weekend.
The board voted 3-1 in favor of Foster’s motion. Santaniello issued the negative vote, adding at the end of the conversation that if someone had been found serving alcohols to minors in their home, the punishment could have been much more severe, including summonses to court that could result in criminal charges.
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