One of the four bar and grill establishments that had been shut down for one week due to alleged flagrant violations of COVID-19 protocols appealed its shutdown and was able to open its doors last weekend and this week.
Braza Grill appealed its shutdown late last week via an attorney and City officials granted them a stay of the one-week suspension until the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) could hold a hearing – which might be months away.
“Under Massachusetts law, an establishment who appeals a violation has the right to stay the suspension until it is heard by State authorities. Any of the closed establishments had the right to appeal the board’s decision, but only one chose to do so,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria
On Oct. 1, a hot License Board meeting took place where all of the cited establishments were to be suspended for three days and have to submit a COVID-19 operating plan to the City. However, a fiery exchange between Paul of Braza Grill and License Board members Phil Antonelli and Phil Aloro resulted in an increase of the penalty to one week closure and the COVID plan. That went across the Board to Braza, La Fania Bar and Grill and La Finca Bar and Grill. Tres Gatos on Chelsea Street was suspended three days. All but Braza chose to serve the suspensions that started on Oct. 9 and continues until this Friday, Oct. 16.
The violations were related to not following COVID-19 precautions and rules, and were uncovered by ABCC investigators, License Board members and Everett Police – all of which were acting on complaints. Prior to the Oct. 1 meeting, the License Board had warned Braza, La Fania and La Finca on Sept. 21 to tighten up their protocols as there had been complaints, and all agreed to do so, but seemingly were caught not doing so only a few days later.
License Chair Phil Antonelli said Braza chose to appeal, while others did not.
“The Licensing Board initiated a one-week suspension,” he said. “Braza Grill retained an attorney and requested a stay order and the City granted it with the knowledge they will appear before the ABCC at a future date. They have a right to appeal and clearly they went for the appeal while others chose to serve their suspensions.”
The hearing at the ABCC might be a little more perilous than in past years, when local Board decisions are often overturned or reduced. That may not be the case with COVID-19 violations, as Attorney Eric Gill told the Board at the Oct. 1 hearing that most violations that have been appealed to them have ended with indefinite suspensions of the license – far worse than a one-week suspension.
One advocate for leniency on the establishments has been Councilor Stephanie Martins, who said the suspensions were a little unfair in her mind. She has also been a champion of re-thinking the new 11 p.m. across the board closing time in Everett instituted recently when cases started to increase.
“The decision was extremely concerning given the fact that businesses have just reopened after being fully or partially closed and receiving no financial help since Federal Assistance didn’t reach many of the smaller businesses,” she said. “These businesses are just getting used to functioning at a limited capacity and bracing for the winter when there will be no outdoor seating. Two other factors made the decision even more concerning: all restaurants were being punished with the early closing time because 3 restaurants were found in violation of COVID-19 guidelines, but the big corporate chains TGI Fridays, Texas Roadhouse, and the casino were still allowed to operate with their normal later alcohol serving licenses creating an unfair competition.”
She said one establishment reported to her that the 11 p.m. closing time resulted in a loss of $15,000, as they make most of their money in the hours between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. closing.
owners after the Licensing Board’s decision to close our restaurants at 11PM.
“It is unfair to hit our small and mostly immigrant-owned businesses with the early closing time while allowing the big corporations which have a greater access to capital to remain open,” she said. “Either we allow our businesses that are not violating rules to operate under their normal time allowed by their licenses or we close all of the Everett businesses at the same time with no exceptions.
“While I agree that it is outrageous that some businesses have received multiple notices about COVID-19 violations, it is our duty as a City to first offer resources and consulting to train these businesses on exactly what the rules are before we fully suspend their license,” she continued.
She said Chair Antonelli, Mayor Carlo DeMaria, the City Solicitor’s Office, and the Everett Chamber of Commerce have been working together with her to explore programs where businesses like those suspended can get more guidance on what is accepted and what isn’t.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents the area where most of the suspended businesses are located, said he disagreed with Martins. He said it’s important to send a message to those who knowingly violate the restrictions – spreading COVID-19 and keeping Everett in the ‘red, high-risk’ category.
“The entire situation around Braza Bar and Grill is a disappointment to say the least,” he said. “I hope and will do anything I can in my official position to see that the State and ABCC will take the right action and end this irresponsibly-run business in our downtown. We must continue to fight hard so the City of Everett can someday get out of the red category and move forward, but that absolutely can’t happen until we hold individuals and businesses accountable for taking a proactive response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This ownership thinks they can run the business as they want and clearly that is not possible in the face of the worst health crisis in more than 100 years.”
The ABCC has not set a hearing yet on the appeal, but there is reportedly quite a backlog at the state level due to so many appeals of COVID-19 violations.