Rincons Latinos Restaurant on Washington Avenue has been no stranger to appearing before the Licensing Commission over the past several months.
At the Thursday, Dec. 6 meeting, it was a case of enough was enough for the licensing commissioners, as they voted to suspend the 373 Washington Ave. restaurant’s liquor license for eight days. The suspension, largely leveled for repeated instances of exceeding the posted capacity of the establishment, will be served during four weekends over December and January.
A police inspection in October found 42 people in the restaurant, well above the posted occupancy limit of 17. Police officials also claimed there was missing signage and insufficient lighting in the restaurant.
Attorney John Dodge, representing Orlando Pineda of Rincons Latinos, argued that his client is planning to install a second handicap accessible bathroom in the restaurant. That move would double the occupancy limit of Rincons Latinos from 17 to 34, he said.
“That is the only thing that has been reducing the occupancy level in the restaurant,” said Dodge. “It isn’t a safety concern in regard to (the number of people) in the restaurant.”
“It’s just breaking the law and not following rules,” countered Mark Rossi, the Licensing Commission chairman.
Dodge said Pineda is doing his best to run a business and will spend upwards of $7,500 to install the new bathroom to comply with regulations.
“Mr. Pineda has put his life and soul into the place, and he lives right upstairs,” Dodge said.
Dodge also noted that the police withdrew a previous charge against the restaurant from the fall that people were illegally bringing cases of beer into and out of the restaurant.
“Mr. Pineda and his brother Ricardo are trying to do the right thing,” Dodge said. “They are doing their best to increase the occupancy. I question the fundamental fairness (of the charges).”
Commission member James Guido took exception to Dodge’s accusation of unfairness.
“They have had plenty of chances,” he said. “The biggest complaint now is the occupancy and we are going to try to deal with that.”
Commission member and Inspectional Services Director Mike McAteer said he has been dealing with the occupancy issue and plans for an additional bathroom since July with no movement on the issue from the Pinedas.
Rossi said Dodge was basically taking a “no harm, no foul” approach to the occupancy violations and that the Pinedas have not made enough effort to address them over the past six months.
“The explanation has been, ehhhhh, it’s a big enough place and nobody got hurt,” Rossi said. “They have not taken the proper steps to alleviate the matter. Now, you are saying give me more time so I can try to make this right.”
The commission members batted around several possible punishments, from a 30-day license suspension to outright revocation, before deciding on the eight-day suspension meted out over four weekends.
Rossi said if the establishment violates the 17-person occupancy limit before approval for expanding to 34 people, it will be subject to license revocation proceedings.
In other business, the commission took its annual vote to allow extended New Year’s Eve hours to 2 a.m.
The commission also approved giving a six-month extension to Samir, Inc. to find a new location to use a wine and malt beverage license.