Ruth’s Chris Steak House, located at the Embassy Suites hotel near Hamilton Place Mall, has had its beer license suspended for three days for serving beer to an underage customer. Mark Oswald, co-owner of Ruth’s Chris and 12 other restaurants told the board this is the first violation of alcohol sales in his 41 years of experience in the hospitality business. Until now, he believed that the extensive training provided and certifications that are required of his employees, was sufficient.
“I’m devastated by it, quite honestly,” he said. All restaurant employees are certified in the company’s training program and must be certified by the TABC and the national restaurant association’s training, before being allowed to serve alcohol. Additionally, the servers must pass background checks and drug testing.
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department along with the Hamilton County Coalition sent two underage buyers into the business on March 19. They were not well dressed, said Mr. Oswald and were directed to the bar area but they asked to be moved to the restaurant where the server took their order and brought them beer without asking to see an ID. “She willfully violated our procedures,” said Mr. Oswald. When asked for an explanation, she said, “I knew better, I was just careless.”
Since the violation, the restaurant has retrained the whole team; added readers to the registers making the ID check a six point process. Guides to recognize ID fraud have also been distributed and posters put on each register about the legal date for alcohol sales. Reviewing the incident, Mr. Oswald said the failure was in not reminding each person before each shift, to check for the proper age. In the Chattanooga restaurant, ID’s will now be checked 100 percent of the time.
Despite doing everything right, the restaurant was penalized for what one employee did, and was given a three-day suspension that will begin May 4, with the possibility of an appeal.
Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins was called to Rossville Billiards, 4205 Rossville Blvd., the night of March 1 by patrol officers and crime detectives who were investigating a death at the bar. In taking statements from the witnesses, it was discovered that a 20-year-old had been served and was drinking a beer. It was described as “pandemonium” by Attorney Johnny Houston, representing the bar, with the customers being handcuffed and the investigation of the death. The only bartender present was flustered with all that was going on, said Officer Collins and so was not questioned in depth. The bar manager, who was not present during the incident, said the bartender always checked IDs, but did not even remember serving the 20-year-old because of the circumstances. The bar was given a three-day suspension from April 27-April 30. The penalty had nothing to do with the deceased and is only about serving the minor, said board member Andre Harriman.
The beer license of Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, 5425 Hwy. 153, was suspended for 30 days for serving a minor. This offense was a follow-up on a compliance check done by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) on January 26. At the follow-up check, the server looked at the ID, but made the sale anyway. The manager of the restaurant, who is the son of the owner, received a call that day saying an additional server was needed. His wife, who is not trained in alcohol sales, agreed to work that shift, and she made the mistake. It was the third violation found by the TABC and after the second, the Beer Board must be notified. This was the second time the restaurant was called before the Chattanooga Beer Board since August 2016. The penalty given was required to match that of the TABC. It came with the additional warning that if caught by the TABC a fourth time, the liquor license would be revoked.
The Raceway at 3459 Amnicola Hwy. was among a group of Raceways that were taken over by new owners in February this year. This location is managed by Priyank Patel, who was stocking shelves the night of March 9. When he saw a clerk sell beer to a customer he questioned her about the age, and she answered that the ID had been checked. Shortly after that, when two officers from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office entered, Mr. Patel said he knew a mistake had been made. He said the first thing he does when hiring is to say they must check IDs. The cash registers are also capable of scanning IDs and prompting, and the clerk knew that, but claimed that she had just overlooked it. She was not fired, but was given a final warning. The store’s beer license was suspended for three days starting April 27.
Another gas/convenience store United Gas & Food, 2304 Shallowford Village Drive, was also caught selling beer to a minor by the sheriff’s department on March 10. The clerk made the sale despite seeing a driver’s license that showed the customer to be underage. He said he had a “personal situation” that day, and apologized, saying he usually does a good job checking IDs. He has since been sent to retraining classes. For the third violation on record, the beer board gave the store a suspension of the beer permit for five days starting April 27.
One new beer license was given to Henpecked, located at 405 Market St., a restaurant specializing in chicken dishes. The owners also currently operate three restaurants in Nashville and two in Alabama. The business has only ABC certified servers, and provides its own training, and plans to do self compliance checks for beer sales.
A special events beer permit was given to Sarah Quattrochi, the associate director of the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, for the fundraiser “Another Gorgeous Evening.” The association’s mission is to protect land in the Tennessee River Gorge that is close to Chattanooga. The event will take place May 11 from 5:30–10 p.m. at The Tennessee River Place located at 3104 Scenic Water’s Lane. Officers will be present to check IDs, but few underage are expected with the 400-500 middle age professional and older folks that are expected, said Ms. Quattrochi. Tickets will include alcohol. A Black Tie Affair will be bartending and checking IDs. Food will be provided by Lee Towery Catering.
The summer music series Nightfall was also given licenses to sell beer at Miller Plaza during the Friday night concerts, from 5:30–10 p.m. They are scheduled for the evenings of May 5, 12, 19, 26, June 2, 23, 30, July 7, 14, 21, 28 and Aug. 4, 11, 18, and 25. This is the 30th year for the Nightfall series, said Carla Pritchard with Chattanooga Presents, which organizes the concerts.