Selectmen Hand Out Penalties to Businesses for Selling to Minors

All three businesses were caught in a routine compliance check with police and underage operatives during which a minor was able to purchase alcohol.

Wayne Campbell, owner of Merchants Liquor Mart, told selectmen there was no excuse for the employee to not ask the teen for an ID. Credit: John Castelluccio
Wayne Campbell, owner of Merchants Liquor Mart, told selectmen there was no excuse for the employee to not ask the teen for an ID. Credit: John Castelluccio
Danvers selectmen handed out three-day license suspensions to three businesses in town last week for serving or selling alcohol to minors, but gave a one-year probationary period on those penalties provided the establishments don't run afoul of liquor laws again before then.

The owners of Merchants Liquor Mart, New Hong Kong Cafe and Brutole Restaurant all appeared before the board to apologize for the infractions and accept whatever discipline the board chose to give.

In all three instances, underage operatives working with Danvers police in a random compliance check of licensed businesses were able to purchase alcohol without employees asking for or checking an ID. The sting occurred Nov. 29.

The employee at fault at the Maple Street package store was fired, said owner Wayne Campbell, because there is a standing zero-tolerance policy for infractions.

"Being the owner of Merchants, I’m 100 percent responsible. There [are] no excuses... This should never ever occur," said Campbell. "We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to this issue. This is the most important part of their job. God forbid, even if this wasn’t just a sting, and we sold to a minor and something happened."

He said his staff is trained and they have an ID scanner, and the policy now is to card anyone under 30. He added that if a group of young adults come in and only one person is buying, employees are still required to ID everyone in the group.

"Thank you for your sincerity. We do take this very seriously," said Selectman Dan Bennett, echoing the appreciation of his fellow board members for Campbell's attitude and response to the problem. "We look at stings as educational tools."

Selectman Bill Clark noted there was a previous violation several years ago at the store, but that was under different ownership.

Over at Hong Kong Cafe, owner and partner John Ng said it was the first violation he's ever had in 10 years of running the restaurant. In this case, there was a female employee behind the bar who didn't normally tend bar and she didn't ask to see an ID.

He said that woman won't serve drinks again until properly trained. He added that the new policy, regardless of whether someone is a repeat customer and looks old enough, is "if they don't have an ID, just drink Diet Coke."

"The safest policy is no ID, no alcohol. My way or the highway," Ng said. "It's the first time for me, I hope it's the last time."

And at Brutole, chef and owner Illias Kakouris likewise apologized and chalked the error up to a distracted waiter who really shouldn't have been working that night anyway. He said the man has worked there for 15 years and is TIPS certified, but was having a bad day due to a personal issue.

Kakouris said that in hindsight, he should have just told the man to take the night off and will take that into consideration in the future with employees. He said the longstanding policy is to card everyone, no matter how old.

"We've learned no matter who you are, we card you," he said. "We take this very serious."

Clark again noted there was a violation 10 years ago when a minor was served alcohol and there was a problem in 2009 when managers were changed prior to review and approval by selectmen, but no other recent issues.

Board members stressed the intent of local stings is to educate licensed businesses. Also, according to the board's policy, first time offenses are met with three-day license suspensions held in abeyance.

"This is an educational compliance check, no different than if the police put a radar out on a street to check speeding," said board chairman Gardner Trask. "I bristle at the word sting. This is not an attempt to trap stores."

If the three businesses were to incur a second violation during their yearlong probationary period, they would lose their licenses for three days on top of any additional action the board chose to take.


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