The owners of some of the eight businesses recently told they must pay a new $100,000 fee or lose their alcohol license spoke out at the Brookhaven City Council’s April 25 meeting.
“I’m a retired, disabled vet. This is not what this country is about,” Ramon Burgos, owner of Acapulco Tropical, told the council during public comment. “You guys are shutting me down out of nowhere.”
City Attorney Chris Balch advised Burgos and other business owners after the meeting that they could get out of the $100,000 fee by making some quick changes to their facilities.
The suspensions were announced days after a federal lawsuit was filed against the city accusing it of discriminating against other, black-owned restaurants located at Northeast Plaza on Buford Highway, now also classified as “entertainment venues” because they include either a DJ booth, dance floor or stage.
An uptick in crime during late night and very early morning hours on and near Buford Highway can be blamed on these “entertainment venues,” according to the city, and is the reason it is cracking down on venues catering to a nightlife crowd and now requiring a $100,000 alcohol license fee, citing increasing costs to provide police coverage to the area.
The federal lawsuit claims the city was unfairly targeting the black-owned businesses. It notes that several other businesses –specifically including most of the eight recently cited — had no problems getting their alcohol licenses renewed at the beginning of the year, despite have similar facilities. Those clubs were after apparently passed over by the city as part of its unequal treatment, the suit states.
On April 18, the city announced license suspensions for Acapulco Tropical, Confetis Restaurant & Bar, Don Pollo Mexican Bar & Grill, El Ocho Billiards, La Casa Restaurant Bar & Lounge, Nina’s Bar & Grill, Pegasus Restaurant & Lounge and Arif Lounge. Pending a May 14 city Alcohol Board hearing, the businesses face the loss of their alcohol licenses effective May 18.
After the council meeting, City Attorney Balch approached Burgos, who attended the meeting with Luis Munoz, owner of Don Pollo Mexican Bar & Grill, and Pedro Cordova, owner of La Casa Restaurant Bar & Lounge. Balch told them that all they had to do to not pay the $100,000 fee was to get rid of either their DJ booth, dance floor or stage.
“All it takes to comply … to leave your license where it is, is to remove any of the three physical attributes to your businesses,” Balch told them. “And if you do those things and you commit to us you are going to, then we can have a conversation about your suspension. But all of that has to be done before the Alcohol Board hearing, he said.
“To keep any of those three, that’s the $100,000,” Balch said.
“But I’ve had my business for 17 years. Why are you trying to tell me to change my business now?” asked Munoz.
Balch said when alcohol license renewals went out to businesses late last year, there was information included of the city’s changes to its alcohol ordinance, including the creation of the “entertainment venue” category.
He also explained “entertainment venues” are not allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays.
“That’s a double burden on entertainment venues,” Balch said.
Cordova, who said he’s owned his business for 20 years, asked Balch where he could get in writing that if he agreed to get rid of a DJ booth and dance floor that he would not have to pay the $100,000 fee.
“If you say you are not going to [have those], we can put that in your license file and that will be part of your file and part of the agreement,” Balch said.
After Balch left and asked if the businesses would remove those items, Cordova shrugged and said he could not afford $100,000.
“We are going to fight,” Munoz said, interrupting him.
The three have spoken to an attorney and attend the May 14 hearing, Munoz added.