With liquor pulled, restaurant owners try new approach
After having their liquor license revoked for a series of alleged violations, the managers of a Birch Bay establishment have vowed to do something different.
On January 21, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) issued an emergency liquor license suspension of the Blue Fish sushi restaurant and bar on Birch Bay Drive after undercover officials allegedly witnessed three counts of over-serving liquor, two counts of employees drinking on the job and one count of permitting a disorderly person to remain and consume alcohol after they were involved in a physical fight outside the restaurant.
The board issued an emergency suspension of up to 180 days for the Blue Fish Restaurant, located at 7829 Birch Bay Drive.
The sting was part of an undercover investigation of several Whatcom County area liquor licensed establishments conducted by the WSLCB on January 18 and 19.
Restaurant manager Larry Campbell, however, said he sees the event as an opportunity to transform a restaurant that has had its share of highs and lows during the past several years.
On Tuesday, he and general manager Grant Cho were already dismantling the bar’s karaoke machine and removing liquor bottles. The pool table, however, will remain, he said.
Campbell, a former sushi chef at Seattle’s Nijo sushi restaurant who was hired on a few months ago to improve the restaurant’s menu and atmosphere, admitted that staff had “failed as a team that night” but said some of the allegations were misleading or untrue.
Campbell said he and Cho had been enjoying after-work beverages when an argument broke out between two patrons.
When Cho tried to intervene, he was cited for drinking on the job even though he had clocked out earlier.
Likewise, when Larry jumped up to get change for a cashier, he, too, was cited for drinking on the job.
“Restaurant work involves long, tedious hours,” Cho said. “Both Larry and I often work 70 to 80 hours per week so this place is kind of like our home.”
With regards to allowing a disorderly person to remain in the establishment, Cho said they had allowed one of the participants of a fight to remain inside the business because the other would not leave the parking lot.
Both Campbell and Cho said they will file an appeal about the board’s decision in a few weeks. Until then, Campbell said they will use the opportunity to focus on the restaurant’s new menu that includes sashimi-grade seafood, sushi and hand-formed Angus beef burgers.
To encourage residents to continue their patronage, Campbell said he has scheduled happy hour prices from 4 to 6 p.m. with 33 percent off fish and chips and sushi rolls, as well as buy one, get one half-off entrees after 6 p.m.
Hours have changed to accomodate the new focus on dining. Instead of 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., the restaurant is now open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and is closed on Monday.
He also said they plan to install a sushi bar by next week and enroll employees in a training program to prevent such violations in the future.
“We had been toying around with the idea of getting rid of the bar for sometime,” he said. “So this incidence gives us an opportunity to do just that. I want to get the permit back so we can serve drinks and wine with meals but I’m not looking to stay open until 2 a.m.”
The suspension is effective until July 23. The WSLCB is authorized by state law to issue an emergency suspension of up to 180 days of a liquor license when it believes the “health, safety or welfare” of the general public is in danger.
Board spokesperson Tom Dixon said during the suspension period, the WSLCB will take action to revoke the restaurant license permanently. Dixon said over-service violations are just as important to liquor control board as selling alcohol to minors because they are both important to public safety.
“We take emergency suspensions very, very seriously because it could result in some or all of the employees losing their job or that business even closing,” he said. “So that’s about as serious as we can get. Not only do the licenses need to know but the patrons need to know too. When someone says you’ve had enough, you should agree.”
Dixon said the board will pursue a cancellation and schedule a hearing with Myung Sun Park, the principal owner of PSKY, a Seattle-based corporation that owns the restaurant.
In the meantime, Campbell said he is trying to let customers know the bright orange sign on their front door does not mean the restaurant has closed.
“We want people to just come in and try the food,” he said. “We’re still here, and we’re open.”