By John Ruch
The Taboo 2 Bistro and Bar is asking a court to overturn the city’s latest denial of its alcohol license application.
In denying Sunita T. Smith’s application as license-holder at a fiery meeting on June 16, members of Sandy Springs City Council expressed concerns that she was a straw applicant on behalf of a former owner recently convicted of bribery.
DeWayne Martin, Smith’s attorney, denied that claim at the meeting and said the council was making decisions based on irrelevant issues.
“Taboo 2 Bistro has appealed the Sandy Springs City Council’s denial of Ms. Smith’s alcohol license application to the Fulton County Superior Court,” Martin later said in an email. “Taboo 2 Bistro will remain open and can sell alcohol during the appeal process.”
This is the latest application controversy at the 6075 Roswell Road nightclub in the wake of a fatal shooting in its parking lot last August. Meanwhile, the club is in a reorganization bankruptcy and, according to court papers, is contesting two federal employment lawsuits alleging wage violations and sex discrimination.
After last year’s fatal shooting, the club temporarily changed its name to Taboo 3000, and a man named Kenneth Durden applied to become its alcohol-license holder. City Council eventually denied his application, expressing concern that he did not live locally.
The company that owned the club, Sirdah Enterprises, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March of this year, according to court documents. The company’s bankruptcy attorney, Leonard Medley, referred questions to Martin and did not return a follow-up call.
One of the company’s principals was Ismail Sirdah, whose webpage identifies him as a Duluth club owner, restaurateur and promoter. According to an FBI press release, Sirdah pleaded guilty in April to bribing a DeKalb County zoning board member in an attempt to keep a separately owned Tucker pool hall open.
Taboo 2 and Sirdah Enterprises are now owned by a family trust created by Sirdah, according to bankruptcy documents and statements by officials, including Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendell Willard, speaking at the June 16 City Council meeting.
Smith, who is listed as vice president and secretary of Sirdah Enterprises on bankruptcy documents, came before the City Council on June 16 as the club’s alcohol license applicant. She cited former management experience at the Shark Bar and Grille in southwest Atlanta.
City officials expressed concerns about the history of crime around Taboo 2, including the 2014 killing, and the possibility that Sirdah could still control and profit from the club via the trust.
City Councilman Graham McDonald, an attorney, questioned Smith at length, as if cross-examining a witness in court. At one point, he seized on Smith referring to herself as a “viable candidate.”
“Do you know why you have been put up as a viable applicant?,” McDonald asked. “Are you familiar with the concept of a straw purchaser?”
Smith said she was not familiar with the term. Martin stepped to say there is “no evidence of any straw purchase.”
“Are you being paid by anyone, including Ismail Sirdah, to apply for this liquor license?” McDonald pressed.
“No,” Smith replied.
Smith appeared to raise some eyebrows among the councilmen when she referred to Sirdah as a “quote-unquote felon” and replied to questions about crime near Taboo 2 by saying, “There’s crime everywhere.”
McDonald said that Durden’s previous application was denied in part for “material misrepresentation” and suggested they do the same with Smith’s application.
Martin warned that if the council made such a vote, “you then have violated the law” by basing it on standards besides those in the city code. “We believe that you have no choice but to approve this license,” he said.
The council disagreed and denied the application, citing Smith’s “failure to respond” to concerns and “misrepresentation” about her prior employment, as well as Sirdah’s “potential” to control the club via the trust.
The club remains in business with Smith as the alcohol license holder, Martin said, while he appeals the council’s decision in court.
Meanwhile, the employment lawsuits are still unresolved. In one suit, 10 plaintiffs sued Sirdah and Sirdah Enterprises in 2012, alleging wage violations. The plaintiffs won that suit, but it is under appeal.
The other suit, filed in 2013 by some of the same plaintiffs and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Sirdah Enterprises, alleges job discrimination based on sex. That case is still pending.
Peter Golden, an attorney for plaintiffs in both suits, declined to comment on the record, and the EEOC did not reply to questions. Kenneth Sokolov, listed as an attorney for Sirdah Enterprises in both suits, did not return a phone call.