The Apple Valley City Council clamped down on Spoon Fusion Cuisine on Thursday, denying renewal of the restaurant's liquor license—a move the Spoon's attorney has said would likely lead to the closure of the business.
The council voted 3-2 to deny the license during a public hearing, after a motion to renew the liquor license for one month with probationary conditions failed on a 2-3 vote. Apple Valley City Council member Clint Hooppaw—who voted to deny renewal—called the decision "the hardest thing I've done in two years of being here".
For nearly two hours, he and other council members debated how to handle the problematic restaurant, which has racked up eight police calls and 27 fire code violations since opening under new ownership in 2011.
The police calls included a "riot-like" fight between 20-30 people at the restaurant that occurred last October, according to Apple Valley Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel. A month earlier, officers also found security guards in possession of handguns while drinking at the establishment during a large event. In May 2012, Spoon canceled a rap music concert after Apple Valley police discovered that known criminal gang members had organized the event, Rechtzigel said.
Since the violations, restaurant owners Van Ngo and Kav Theng claim they've stopped allowing nightclub-type events hosted by third-party organizers—which were the source of most of the police calls. Apple Valley
In December 2012, the council gave the restaurant a one-month license renewal through Jan. 31 with conditions that included mandatory alcohol server training, monthly meetings with police, compliance with the fire code and no third-party events, among other conditions. Since December Fire Department officials say the restaurant has cooperated and is no longer in violation of fire codes. Apple Valley police also say the restaurant’s owners are cooperating on alcohol training.
But recurring communication problems—and the restaurant’s decision to advertise for several upcoming private events, including a fundraiser and a Valentine’s Day party, without informing city staff—left a sour taste in some councilor’s mouths.
Despite the ongoing issues, Councilor Tom Goodwin and Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland sympathized with the restaurant owners, and attributed many of the recent difficulties to cultural differences. The upcoming events, Hamann-Rolad argued, were cultural events for the Cambodian community, and didn’t violate the terms of Spoon’s temporary license.
But others, like Councilor Ruth Grendahl, struck a less forgiving tone.
“You keep bringing up cultural differences, and I have a real problem with this" Grendahl said, addressing Goodwin. “This isn’t a cultural difference, we have rules and regulations that other businesses have to abide by, and this business has to abide by the same rules everybody else does."
“How many last chances are we going to do?" Hooppaw asked, noting that police and city officials have been working with the restaurant for months.
Ultimately, Grendahl, Hooppaw and Councilor John Bergman voted in favor of denying the liquor license. But both urged the restaurant to consider applying for a beer and wine license, rather than a full liquor license, as a possible alternative.