Contentious Licensing Meeting Focuses Entirely on COVID-19 Violations

Three establishments that violated state COVID-19 protocols over the last few weeks – all after being warned two weeks ago – got one-week suspensions of their licenses and another establishment got a three-day suspension.

All will have to provide a COVID-19 operational plan within 10 days to the City in conjunction with the Department of Labor Standards, and their suspensions are to begin this Friday, Oct. 9.

The reports of violations came from members of the License Commission on one occasion and from state investigators from the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) on several other occasions. ABCC investigators and Everett Police have been vigilant over the last few weeks in sniffing out violations at all of the City’s establishments due to Everett being a ‘red’ high-risk community, and the Board put in place an 11 p.m. closing time at a meeting on Sept. 21. At that meeting, establishments Braza Grille, 158 School St.; La Fania, 18 Beacham St.; and La Finca, 37 Norwood St.; were all warned that complaints had been lodged against them, and they were given a chance to “tighten things up.”

It seems, however, those warnings were ignored, as investigators and License Commissioners only days later found further, more egregious violations.

At the Oct. 1 Emergency Meeting, the Board was prepared to give out three-day suspensions with a requirement to submit a COVID-19 plan, but that all changed after a heated exchange with Braza Grille representative Paul – who accused the Board of discrimination.

That upped the ante on the penalty, which soon increased for everyone to one week.

“I don’t think any of that matters,” said Member Phil Aloro. “If we’re notified of a violation, we’re supposed to react to it…In my opinion, I think that the (three-day) penalty is not enough. We had this business up a week ago and he heard what we said and he ignored it. There was supposed to be no live entertainment and there was live entertainment…It’s up to this business to be able to follow all the rules and regulations. He’s not following them. The penalty should be more than three days…I don’t think they’re taking their business seriously. We’re pro-business and we don’t want to shut anyone down, but from what I’ve seen and heard I don’t think this business is running properly.”

Braza seemed to be the test case for the night, and it had started when Chair Phil Antonelli was called late on Thursday night by the Everett Police saying there were complaints and observations of activity that didn’t follow COVID-19 guidelines. Antonelli said with so many complaints, he decided to see for himself if it was true. What he found was a complete disregard of all the rules that were explained just a few days before, he said, such as people at the bar, too many people at a table, Karaoke singers, overcrowding and no one wearing masks.

“This is serious,” said Antonelli. “I understand everyone was closed four months and no one made much money and bills are due. I’m aware of that, but we can’t operate as we did last year. It’s an unfortunate reality of life. Everett’s numbers are up and it should be a concern to you and your patrons.”

Paul told the Commission he has the largest establishment in the City – aside from the casino – and he’s had no problems in 10 years.

“Are you kidding me Paul?” asked Antonelli. “We’ve had someone who got killed outside of your establishment.”

Then Paul said the Board frequently enforces things against his restaurant that they don’t for others – and said he believes he is being discriminated against.

“What I find is you people use my establishment as an example for the city,” he said. “I see a video of different establishments and they do the same thing I do. It’s not fair…It’s not just this time. I want to see who sent a video.”

At that, the ante was upped and what was three days for everyone turned into a week’s suspension beginning on Oct. 9.

“I’m trying to be fair, but you’re wanting to push the envelope and accuse the Board of discrimination,” said Antonelli.

“I’m desperate; I’m trying to survive,” said Paul.

It was too late, and the Board voted 2-0 to suspend. Paul indicated he would appeal to the ABCC, but ABCC Attorney Kyle Gill indicated they are taking the violations seriously.

“These guidelines the state put out for restaurants are intended to keep us safe and at the ABCC so far violations have resulted in indefinite suspensions,” he said.

The other two major violations came at La Fania and La Finca, both who had also been called up to the Board on Sept. 21, and then had violations on Sept. 25 by ABCC investigators.

Owner Kilder Cardova indicated he was very serious about the virus and had it for six weeks earlier this year. However, he said the violations detailed in the report weren’t accurate, and that there was no Karaoke going on. Rather, the man with the mic was telling people to sit down and follow the rules.

ABCC Investigators told the Board they believed it was traditional Karaoke with people singing and words on a screen behind them, as well as too many people without masks and such.

“These establishments need to be dealt with now,” said Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents that area. “We can’t have COVID-19 spreading. They just told you they didn’t have Karaoke and the investigators confirmed they did. If these businesses are going to come up here and not tell the truth, why are we here? La Fania, La Finca and Braza have had multiple opportunities. We shouldn’t tolerate this. We should set a precedent. Every business is watching what we do here.”

Cardova agreed to the suspension, noting he wasn’t there at the time, and likely something he didn’t know was going on. He said he wouldn’t appeal.

La Finca owner Manuel De Vasquez also had violations from an ABCC investigation where they found many violations, including DJ music and dancing inside.

“Did I have a PC playing with music? Yes,” he said. “I’m not going to say the report is false. You know me. I’m not going to hide or go anywhere. I’ll take full responsibility and I’ll take the punishment as it comes.”

Both restaurants also got a one-week suspension that starts Oct. 9, and are subject to submitting the COVID-19 plan.

Councilor Stephanie Martins argued for a lifting of the 11 p.m. closing, saying businesses needed help now to survive, but she also asked patrons and owners to be more responsible.

“I ask the community to help us to keep these businesses open,” she said. “Many of them are being temporarily closed and placed on probation because their patrons are violating COVID-19 guidelines inside those establishments.

Please follow the mask rules. This is not the time for dancing, for karaoke, and for 20 people sitting together. The State and the City are serious about these guidelines for your own safety – and the businesses are the ones that are footing the bill and taking the loss. Let’s all work together to safely reopen the city while protecting each other.”

One other restaurant, Tres Gatos on Chelsea Street, was levied a three-day suspension as the establishment had no complaints about COVID-19 at the Sept. 21 meeting, though the establishment has a long history of discipline with the Board. ABCC investigators found several violations occurring inside in an inspection, but the Board decided on a three-day suspension and presentation of a COVID-19 plan.

Finally, Rob Jack’s on Main Street also was found to have a minor violation in an inspection by the ABCC, but the establishment had never had a complaint logged before or any negative history with the Board. Owner Luis Flores said he has corrected the problems and the ABCC concurred with that.

He was given probation only.

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