Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on September 10, 2015.

Written by Becky Witt

The September 10, 2015 hearings began at 1:10pm, with all three commissioners present: Benjamin Neil, Douglas Trotter, and Elizabeth Hafey.

1:00 p.m.

I. Expedited Items (Transfers):

Applicants Bing Chai Chen & Yun Ming Chen
Business Name Chen’s Liquors, Inc.
Trading As B&O Cafe
Address 1301-03 W. Pratt Street
Type of License Class “BD-7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application to transfer ownership
Hearing notes

Mr. David Woo represented the two applicants; he told the commissioners that Ms. Chen will be the main operator, but they both have extensive experience. The applicants do not plan to change how the business currently operates. They met with Nancy McCormick, who is the head of the Mount Clare Neighborhood Association, and the applicants will cooperate with the neighbors, particularly on maintaining the safety of the premises. They are working out an MOU, which will be submitted to the Board.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood New Southwest/Mount Clare
Area demographics 17% White, 76% Black, 1% Asian; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 36% households have children under age 18; median household income: $28,513.80; 30% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes, but the corporate entity name is “Chen’s Liquor, Inc.”
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? Yes
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident 0%
Attorney for licensee Mr. David Woo
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Under Article 2B section 9-101(b), at least one of the applicants on the license must be a registered voter and taxpayer of Baltimore City and shall have resided in Baltimore City at least two years prior to the application. Under Article 2B section 10-103(b)(10), each applicant must state on their application that he or she “has a pecuniary interest in the business to be conducted under said license.” The Baltimore City resident on the application, however, does not have a pecuniary interest in the business, which makes the application potentially deficient.

Bing Chai Chen gave only 5 years of employment history, not the 10 required in the applicants’ interview form. The interview form also did not contain the name of the person or entity who loaned the applicants the money to purchase the business and property.

The 230 Park Avenue and 2139 Jefferson Street cases were not called and were presumably postponed.

II. Regular Docket

Applicants Randal Etheridge & Brendan Finnerty
Business Name Brendal, Inc.
Trading As Idle Hour
Address 201 E. Fort Avenue
Type of License Class “BD-7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of Article 2B Section 10-504(d)
Hearing notes

Mr. Randal Etheridge was present at the hearing, unrepresented by counsel, in his request for a hardship extension. He said that his business was open for two days in March, the 17th and the 30th, and he brought credit card receipts and sales tax forms to show that he made sales on those days. He applied for the extension on June 26, 2015. Mr. Etheridge plans to reopen the business by the end of October, but he had to close temporarily because the building needed repairs.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Riverside
Area demographics 90% White, 3% Black, 3% Asian. 3% Hispanic ethnicity. 15% households have children under age 18. Median household income: $73,342. 8% households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 1
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None

III. Reconsideration

Applicants Jaswinder Singh & Andre Butler
Business Name 1542 Singh, LLC
Trading As Langermanns on Light
Address 1542 Light Street
Type of License Class “BD-7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for reconsideration of the Board’s decision on June 18, 2015.
Hearing notes

Mr. Kodenski had submitted a request for reconsideration after a prior hearing, at which the Board (under a former administration) had denied a transfer of ownership. Mr. Kodenski gave five reasons for his request for reconsideration: (1) that there were only two of the three commissioners present, (2) there were references to another problem bar during the hearing, which were not relevant to the transfer, (3) there were references to businesses allegedly belonging to Mr. Singh in Baltimore County which were not accurate in the first hearing, (4) Mr. Singh was pressured into signing an MOU (but he did not sign the MOU), and (5) the opponents of the transfer brought up allegations that were never formally charged as violations. Many, if not all, of these objections were raised at the original hearing, which took place on June 18, 2015. Read the Booze News entry for the original hearing here.

Chairman Benjamin Neil clarified that the hearing would not be a “reconsideration,” because none of the commissioners were on the Board when the matter was first heard. He said, “we can’t reconsider it, because we never heard it originally. … It’s going to be a new hearing, and we’re going to hear everything.”

Marie Sennett, for the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association, made a motion to dismiss the entire hearing, because she argued that it was improper under a Court of Appeals case which discusses reconsiderations. Chairman Neil responded that her motion to dismiss, was “problematic, from a legal standpoint,” because Mr. Kodenski did not have any notice that she wanted to dismiss the case. He denied the motion.

Mr. Kodenski continued by putting on exactly the same case as he put on in June. Mr. Singh previously was a licensee at Caton House but has sold that business, and wants to operate this bar as a BD-7 tavern. He has met with community groups at least three times. Singh was presented with an MOU, which he mostly agreed to, but he did not agree to be bound to a 50% food sales requirement, though he would agree to sell “some food.” Singh agreed to not have live entertainment and to not use the second floor of the building. Mr. Butler, the other applicant, was not present at the hearing.

Ms. Sennett cross-examined Mr. Singh about the veracity of the information that he had included on his application. One of Mr. Singh’s associates, who was present at the hearing, but did not testify, provided information to the community that Mr. Singh had formerly owned a business in Baltimore County called the Liquor Station. There had also been complainst that Mr. Singh’s video poker machine was not up to date on its permits and that there were patrons with open containers outside of the premises, though there were no violations issued by the Liquor Board about these complaints. There was also some discussion about whether Mr. Singh had told the community that he had had no violations, when, in fact, he had been found responsible for an underage sale violation. Mr. Singh’s responses to these questions were difficult to understand, and his tone was combative.

Mr. Kodenski pointed out that he had submitted a letter the day before the hearing that corrected Mr. Singh’s application and explained the previous underage drinking violation. Ms. Sennett said that the letter doesn’t specifically state what needs to be corrected.

Ms. Sennett asked Mr. Singh about his wife’s business, New Punjab LLC, where she owns a liquor license. Mr. Kodenski objected to this line of questioning, arguing that, since the Constitution allowed women the right to vote, they have been “femmes soles” and that Mr. Singh shouldn’t have to answer for his wife’s business.

Sennett asked Mr. Singh about his business plan for 1542 Light Street, pointing out that he had never told the community about his plans for the business. Mr. Singh said that he might serve foods like chicken wings, fries, and other deep fried foods. Sennett pointed out that, previously, Singh had said he might sell crabs. Singh replied, “I don’t know! You like crabs? I sell crabs.”

Moving to the community’s side of the case, Mr. Michael Murphy, president of SBNA, testified that he had met with Mr. Singh and was trying to negotiate an agreement and create a good working relationship with him when discrepancies began to arise in Mr. Singh’s communications. At the most recent meeting of the SBNA, the membership of the organization turned down the MOU, even with the 50% food sales requirement. The Chairman pointed out that Mr. Singh did not have to agree to the MOU to get a license, and Mr. Murphy agreed. Neil gave both sides a chance, at this point in the hearing, to try to come to common ground, and both sides said that they had already tried to do that. Neil said that if the transfer does not go through, there would be an empty building. Murphy said that, if this transfer falls through, another business will open, since “South Baltimore is not lacking for development; Cave Valley is blowing the place up, and Under Armour is buying things. We are very fortunate in this neighborhood.”

Councilman Eric Costello testified that he also did not see a deal possible for the community with this transfer. Costello normally does not get involved in liquor issues, because they are regulated by the state, not the city, but he was present because of how strongly he felt that the transfer was a bad idea. Costello didn’t recall any other establishment trying to open, ever, that did not have a business plan.

Two more neighbors testified in opposition to the transfer. Ms. Adia Hoag, who was the main spokesperson for SBNA in the June hearing, testified again, echoing what others had said before her about the negotiations between SBNA and Mr. Singh. Ms. Sennett then testified last, going through the investigative steps that she had taken to uncover Mr. Singh’s violation and other business(es). She stated that everything in her affidavit, which was submitted at the June hearing, was true, to her knowledge.

In closing, Mr. Kodenski said that he didn’t know how many red herrings had been given by the opponents, but that he supposed it was appropriate, since the hearing took place close to the Jewish holidays. Kodenski said that one community group is not the “be all and end all.” His client wasn’t issued a violation for the poker machine and open container complaints. Kodenski said that he didn’t know what a business plan is, that his client wants to make money, and there is a language barrier.

Ms. Sennett said that SBNA was not the only group opposed to the transfer and pointed out that there were letters of opposition from other groups, including Riverside, Federal Hill, and Harbor Court. The groups’ main concern was that they wanted an owner they could trust, and Mr. Singh had not been truthful. They did not believe that he would be a good owner and take care of his business.

Zoning B-2-3
Neighborhood South Baltimore
Area demographics 90% White, 3% Black, 3% Asian; 3% Hispanic ethnicity; 15% households have children under age 18; median household income: $73,342; 8% households live below the poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Howard County
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? Yes
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident 0% on the application; Mr. Kodenski said that he had changed it to 1%
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~5
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 5
# of inspectors/police officers 1
Result of hearing Transfer denied
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Hafey pointed out that the licensee should have known how to fill out the application and that he had been found responsible for the violation, even though it was really the fault of his employee. She said that there were too many inconsistencies in the testimony, and she was concerned that the inconsistencies were not corrected until the day before the hearing. Commissioner Trotter agreed that the lateness of the corrections were a problems.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Reconsideration: In Maryland Court of Appeals case called Calvert County Planning Commission v. Howlin Realty Management, the court held that “[a]n agency … may reconsider an action previously taken and come to a different conclusion upon a showing that the original action was the product of fraud, surprise, mistake, or inadvertence, or that some new or different factual situation exists that justifies the different conclusion. What is not permitted is a ‘mere change of mind’ on the part of the agency.” The issues that Mr. Kodenski raised were all addressed at the June hearing; therefore, there was no reason for the Board to re-hear the case.

Completeness of Application: Mr. Kodenski, for some reason, was apparently allowed to make amendments to the application the day before the hearing. This is in complete violation of Article 2B section 10-202(a)(4)(vii)(1), which states that “[t]o incorporate a change in the application document after the Board or the Board’s designee has determined the application to be complete, the applicant shall submit the change to the Board not later than 15 days before the scheduled hearing.” Either Mr. Kodenski’s amendments should not have been considered by the commissioners at the hearing or the hearing should have been rescheduled to give the community members time to address the amendments.

(Back to Regular Docket)

Applicants Amy Okiebisu, Shigehiko Okiebisu & Jong Hee Han
Business Name Kippo Ramen, LLC
Trading As Kippo Ramen
Address 606 S. Broadway
Type of License Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application for a new Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor restaurant license under the provisions of Article 2B Section 6-201(d) (vii) $500,000 in capital investment in restaurant fixtures and facilities and seating capacity for a minimum of 75 people
Hearing notes

Mr. Peter Prevas represented the applicants, who were all present, along with a representative of the landlord of the building. Prevas proffered that Mr. Okiebisu, who goes by the name “Jackie,” came to the US in the 1980s to work at Benihana, then went into the beauty supply business with his brother. Jackie now wants to go back to the restaurant business and will be operating a ramen restaurant. He’s gone back to Japan as well as making a trip to Los Angeles to see how they run their restaurants. His menu will be based on the more Americanized flavors of the restaurants in Los Angeles. He will be a full-time operator with his business partner and daughter, who bought a house nearby. He has six years’ restaurant experience but has not yet taken the alcohol awareness course. The Fells Point Community Organization submitted a letter of support for the new license. Prevas submitted a floor plan, showing 78 seats, and he submitted a breakdown of past and future expenses that exceeded the $500,000 minimum in the statute.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Fells Point
Area demographics 70% White, 8% Black, 5% Asian; 15% Hispanic ethnicity; 11% households have children under age 18; median household income: $69,105; 11% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Howard County
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? Yes
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident 10%
Attorney for licensee Mr. Peter Prevas
# in support 4
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

A walk down memory lane: in 2013, the Board, under the Fogleman administration, held a hardship extension request hearing for two licenses: one at 600 S. Broadway and one at 606 S. Broadway. The licenses had been unused since 2006, according to testimony at that hearing. A representative of the land owner and developer, Mr. Holmes, told the commissioners in 2013 that he had an ideal tenant in mind for 606 S. Broadway, if the Board would just give another hardship extension. He explained that, “until the tenant knows for sure that the Red Line is a go, [he’s] sitting on the sidelines.” According to the Booze News post on the hearing, Mr. Holmes stated that he “was hopeful that decisions on the Red Line will become clear in the early part of 2014.” The Board voted to deny the hardship extension, declaring the license to be expired after 7 years of disuse.

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