Amherst Select Board suspends Panda East liquor license for two days after violation involving 17 underage drinkers



Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2016

AMHERST — The owner of a downtown restaurant will surrender its liquor license for two days later this month after the Select Board determined it violated state law by serving alcohol to 17 underage drinkers in November.

The board voted unanimously Monday to suspend the license of Panda East, 103 North Pleasant St., for seven days, with two days to be served Jan. 25 and Jan 26, and the remaining five days to be held in abeyance for two years. If there are no further violations in those 24 months, those additional five days would not be enforced.

Board member Constance Kruger said the violation, discovered by police on the night of Nov. 14, is serious and shows lack of training and responsibility on the part of management and staff.

“Seventeen counts seems quite significant to me,” Kruger said.

Kruger said there is also evidence, based on social media reports compiled by police, that underage college students knew Panda East was a place they could get alcoholic beverages without being carded.

“I don’t see it as an isolated incident.” Kruger said.

During the hour-long hearing, Police Chief Scott Livingstone recommended a one- or two-day license suspension based on this being a first-time offense for the restaurant and indications that new management is trying to improve the situation.

According to a police report filed by officer Nicholas Chandler, 17 people under 21 were identified as consuming scorpion bowls, including one 19-year-old woman and two 18-year-old women.

Scorpion bowls are popular with college students, he said, because they have high alcohol content and a fruity taste.

“It’s not only a strong drink, it’s tasteful,” Chandler added.

Chandler made his observations after a complaint was filed by a person who came to the police station to let officers know about the potential underage serving that was occurring.

“The customers uniformly responded that no identifications were ever requested by staff and this has been uniformly in practice for some time,” Chandler wrote in his report.

Chandler’s report also indicated what he observed was likely only a fraction of the violations, as additional scorpion bowls had been made. “It was evident the staff was removing these drinks in efforts to limit the numbers of those found to have been unlawfully served,” he wrote.

Chandler told the board Monday that some college students fled when they noticed police in the building.

The Select Board’s penalty is directed at Isaac Chow, the owner and manager of Panda East.

But Amherst attorney Kristi Bodin said during the hearing that the restaurant is in transition and that a temporary manager, Amy Wu, is now in charge.

Bodin, who represented Wu, said Chow is “stepping out entirely from the picture.”

Wu was the acting manager when the violations occurred and began her tenure at Panda East in September.

Bodin said Wu has taken immediate steps to address the violations, including providing alcohol-serving training to staff that had not been done under previous management.

“We’re not disputing there were underage people being served,” Bodin added.

Wu, who also attended the hearing, said all waiters will know how to avoid allowing minors to access alcohol. “Now everybody is really, really checking IDs,” she said.

“I’m really, really sorry this happened at Panda East,” Wu added.

Wu said bartenders are also reducing the amount of alcohol in the drink based on these training tips.

“It’s not like before, so strong, but we’re still using the fancy scorpion bowl,” Wu said.

Bodin said with new management, the Select Board should either not suspend the license, or do so at a time when college students are out of town and the restaurant is less busy.

Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer said she disagreed with Bodin, observing that a suspension should act as a deterrent to future problems.

“I find the idea that doing it at a time when it’s less impacting on the business to be inappropriate,” Brewer said.

Select Board member Douglas Slaughter said this is opportunity to make a statement about the seriousness with which town officials and police take underage drinking.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




 


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