Reopen News: Restaurant owners report aggressive enforcement by NY liquor authorities

PATCHOGUE, Long Island (WABC) -- Some restaurant owners on Long Island tell Eyewitness News they are being aggressively targeted by enforcement officers with the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA).

The owners of restaurants in Patchogue said inspectors come into their establishments several times per week and sometimes two or three times per day. One restaurant owner said officers have visited his restaurant approximately 19 of the last 23 days.

"I can't have a customer who goes to the bathroom without a mask be the thing that shuts me down," said a restaurant owner who would only identify himself by his first name, James. "There are so many little things that they're getting us on."

James said about a month ago he was cooking in the kitchen when an SLA inspector barged in.

"Never gave me his name, never showed any credentials," James said. "He says, 'I'm glad you have your mask on. That's what we're looking for. Keep up the good work.'"

John Sarno, who owns Village Idiot Pub, said inspectors have only visited his Patchogue location, not his locations in Oakdale or Lake Grove.

Sarno said inspectors recently visited the Patchogue location twice in one day.

"People are afraid to come to work because they don't want to be the one that makes a mistake or has their mask down for five minutes when an agent walks in," he said.
In May, Dublin Deck in Patchogue caught the eye of state regulators after videos online showed people crowded inside the bar with no one wearing masks.

Restaurant owners believe they are being punished for that incident and many are hesitant to speak about the enforcement efforts because they fear retaliation by the SLA.

"We are all scared to death of the retribution because we can't fight back. We're little guys. We don't have an army of lawyers," James said.

A spokesperson for the SLA said in a statement to Eyewitness News, "This is about protecting public health. We will take action against anyone who puts New Yorkers in danger. To date, state investigators have conducted nearly 34,000 compliance checks on Long Island and in every neighborhood throughout New York City."

David Kennedy, the Executive Director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, said he's worried about the stress the repeated inspections are putting on restaurant owners.

One owner was recently fined $1,500 because a worker in the kitchen wasn't wearing a mask while cleaning at the end of the night.
"That just doesn't seem to be the spirit of what this increased enforcement was all about," Kennedy said. "Our restaurants here need to be partners in this."

New York State Senator Monica Martinez witnessed the interaction for herself recently while at a restaurant in Bay Shore.

She described the SLA inspector as "very aggressive, very rude, very nasty" toward the restaurant owner. Martinez said she stepped in and asked the SLA inspector what the restaurant was doing wrong. She took pictures of the inspector's license plate to report him to the SLA.

Martinez has requested a meeting with SLA officials and local restaurant owners.

"I believe a small meeting between an SLA representative or enforcement officer, myself, and 10 to 12 businesses, who will be able to ask questions on behalf of their industry, would provide immense value to our community," Martinez wrote in an August 19 letter to SLA Chairman Vincent Bradley. "I believe it is critical we continue to balance the safety of workers and patrons with the needs of our businesses and recovery of our economy."

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