Restaurant owners rally in Harlem against stiff penalties given by the liquor authority during the pandemic

Dozens of restaurant owners from across the city are demanding state agencies change the ways they're enforcing pandemic regulations.

News 12 Staff

Aug 19, 2020, 4:18 PM

Updated 1,377 days ago


Dozens of restaurant owners from across the city are demanding state agencies change the ways they're enforcing pandemic regulations.

The message coming from these restaurant owners, who gathered in Harlem Wednesday morning, is that they want coordination, communication and justification for what they're calling stiff penalties that state agencies are levying against their businesses for situations they say are at times out of their control.

Some owners say they're facing fines as high as $30,000 after the State Liquor Authority held them in violation of enforcing pandemic rules and regulations, like requiring all customers wear a mask, maintaining social distancing and not allowing indoor dining.

They claim that different state agencies give them different guidelines, leaving them confused.

They're calling on those agencies to get on the same page and provide a process for them to make a case against any penalties they receive.

The owner of Fokkus Room & Cuisine says the SLA shut her Fordham Road business down for almost a week for not enforcing social distancing, but on a street that is busy she says is almost impossible to do.

"As of right now, the lowest fines we've seen in order to restore licenses and in order to reopen are as high as $25,000 and $30,000," says Tamara Espinal. "We're here to demand that our restaurants stop being harassed by the Cuomo administration and the state Liquor Authority."

Espinal went on to say that business is down 60% and she fears not being able to survive the pandemic.

Celene Rosado says her business, Sweet Brooklyn Bar and Grill, has avoided penalties but she remains confused about the rules.

"The issue is we don't have the support and we're incurring all the expenses to adhere to these rules," Rosado says.

Rep. Jessica Ramos joined restaurant owners from across the city to call for more coordination between the state Liquor Authority and other agencies enforcing the rules.

According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 148 establishments across the state have had their liquor license suspended during the pandemic as of Monday. A total of 47 of those businesses are in the Bronx and 74 are in Brooklyn.

The state Liquor Authority told News 12 that "investigators have conducted more than 30,000 compliance checks so far," adding in a statement that "the only things guiding their works are a mandate to protect the public and the actions of bar owners. We will continue to take action against the small number of establishments who willfully violate coronavirus-related regulations, placing both lives and New York's reopening at risk."

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