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Salt Lake City business owner sues DABC after revoking bar license

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Kimi’s Chop and Oyster House, like many restaurants and bars, has been closed for almost a year due to the pandemic.

And even when the Salt Lake City business, located at 2155 S. Highland Dr., was able to reopen in February 2021, social distancing requirements limited the number of diners that could be seated in the downstairs restaurant. .

The upstairs Oyster Bar lounge – for those 21 and over – also sat empty for many nights as bars were considered a high risk of spreading the virus.

However, when a routine audit of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Department showed that during three different periods in March and April 2021, Kimi’s Oyster Bar did not sell any alcohol – it raised flags. red wines for the liquor agency beyond a simple COVID-19 slowdown.

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In May, the DABC Liquor Commission confiscated Kimi’s bar license, claiming the company had violated state law by shutting down operations without first obtaining approval.

Owner Kimi Eklund insists the bar – as well as the adjacent restaurant – has still been open since it reopened in February and believes the commission acted arbitrarily.

She recently filed a lawsuit with the 3rd District Court asking a judge to reinstate the bar’s license – a license that is rare in Utah.

While Eklund awaits a decision, Kimi’s Chop House will continue to sell alcohol to patrons under its Restaurant Liquor License – which allows patrons to order alcohol only when they are also ordering food. .

(Isaac Hale | Special for The Tribune) An upstairs space formerly used as a bar remains vacant at Kimi’s Chop and Oyster House at Sugar House on Friday, July 9, 2021.

DABC spokeswoman Michelle Schmitt said the agency “cannot comment on pending legal issues.”

But under state law, a licensed business “cannot shut down or cease operations for a period longer than 240 hours” unless the owner receives approval from the company. the agency.

The DABC audit said Kimi’s Oyster Bar was “closed without prior approval” because there were no alcohol receipts between February 27 and March 9; April 4 and 13; and April 28 and May 11.

When the days were combined, according to the DABC audit, the closures exceed the 240-hour limit set by state law.

Eklund’s legal complaint, however, points to several examples showing that the oyster bar was open but no customers had ordered from the bar. He had a valid business license with the city, his website advertised that the bar was open; and its OpenTable reservation site offered tables at the bar.

“Kimi’s was indeed open and operational during times when the DABC Commission found Kimi’s to be closed,” the complaint said, “and, during alleged shutdowns, Kimi’s offered for sale alcohol or beer as permitted by their license. “

The DABC based its decision, the complaint added, “solely on when the alcohol sales took place, and not on whether the establishment was open and operational or whether Kimi was offering alcohol or beer for sale “.

While the circumstances surrounding The Oyster Bar remain controversial, this is not the first time that the DABC has revoked a liquor license due to “unapproved shutdown” violations.

In April 2020, Scott Evans lost his liquor licenses for the George Restaurant and adjoining George Bar, both located at 327 W. 200 South. At the time, Evans was facing “automatic forfeiture” for not producing alcohol distribution records, and Bar George was closed for more than 10 days without departmental approval.

(Isaac Hale | Special for The Tribune) Marissa Nichols Giron and her husband Trevor Giron prepare for a meal as they dine at Kimi’s Chop and Oyster House at Sugar House on Friday, July 9, 2021.

The bar license was sold

To complicate matters, Eklund was also in the process of selling the bar license to the owner of the ‘Bout Time Pub and Grub Sports Bar franchise.

In April 2020 – at the height of the pandemic when things looked financially dire for Kimi’s Chop and Oyster House – Eklund decided to sell.

Eklund told the liquor board during its May hearing she made the decision when she was “extremely upset” by the company and before knowing that federal coronavirus help would become available.

“I don’t think you realize the intensity that those of us in the industry were facing,” she said, adding that she had 26 employees and several food vendors to pay. with only $ 35,000 in his bank account.

“At that point, that was the only thing I could think of to survive,” she told the commission, adding that “that’s also the only reason we’re having this conversation – because that you think I’m keeping this license just so I can sell it.

Commissioners have previously said they don’t like business owners keeping bar licenses to make money, especially when they’re limited. Currently, eight business owners have applied and are waiting to receive a state bar license.

Typically, those who wish to obtain a hard-to-obtain license must apply to DABC and then wait – sometimes several months or more – until a license becomes available due to an increase in population or from another bar closure.

Businesses can also purchase bar licenses from other owners. But they can be pricey, selling for $ 30,000 and up in recent months.

Eklund told the commission she regrets her decision to sell. “I don’t want to give up the bar license,” she said, “but at the same time, I made a commitment.”

However, before the sale could be finalized, the DABC lost the bar’s license and Kimi’s and ‘Bout Time were left empty-handed.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion