Apple Valley gives Spoon restaurant another chance

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 11, 2013 - 5:29 PM

The Vietnamese eatery and occasional nightclub has had a troublesome run, police say.

It sounds like a saloon scene from another time and place: fist-fighting patrons, one who pulled a gun, and three gun-toting bouncers who were not only unlicensed but were drinking during nightclub events.

It's gone on for months not in Chicago or Wyoming, but at the Spoon bar and restaurant in downtown Apple Valley.

"Nobody in Apple Valley has seen this before," Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel said. He said police had responded eight times since May 2011 to quell fights, most recently in October, when cops from neighboring cities were needed.

Rechtzigel has recommended that the City Council not renew the Spoon's liquor license or do so with strict conditions.

The council voted 3-2 last month to give the Vietnamese fusion restaurant at 14871 Granada Av. a one-month license for January. City officials are preparing conditions for a possible longer license that the council will consider next week.

"We're just not used to this kind of thing," said Tom Goodwin, who voted to give the owners, a young couple, one more chance. "This is Apple Valley, for Pete's sakes. Usually when the cops contact an owner and say 'Fix this,' they fix it. This guy just didn't do it."

Owners Kav Theng and his wife, Van Ngo, were born in Indochina and live with their three children in Burnsville. Seated in his medium-size restaurant, Theng, 32, said he told police in November that he has quit renting the place to promoters for hip-hop or other late night events.

"We try to cooperate," Theng said in broken English. He said they feel police are harassing them to run them out of town.

Theng, who also cooks meals, said police cars have sat a few shops away at night and trained headlights on his front door as customers left. He said officers, some with K-9 dogs, have entered during lunch or dinner hours and looked around, causing business to drop because diners "think we are doing bad things."

Rechtzigel said officers often have parked near the Spoon's strip mall parking lot while patrolling the area, which has numerous fast-food restaurants popular with teens.

"There's been no harassment. We responded to calls for service," he said. He said no problems had occurred since Theng agreed to stop promoter events. But given the past year's serious incidents, "We are watching closely," he said.

Theng's attorney, Michael Padden, said a liquor license is crucial to his clients staying in business, but they may give up and litigate the matter.

Fire department inspectors have warned but not cited the Spoon for 27 fire code violations since January 2011. The violations include repeatedly obstructing fire exits and exceeding the 265-person maximum capacity, Fire Chief Nealon Thompson said. He said the owners removed tables and chairs to comply with occupancy limits, but when inspectors returned months later, the extra tables and chairs were back. That narrowed aisles and would impede patron egress in a fire emergency, Thompson said.

Theng said the authorities keep changing his occupancy limits, which have varied from 280 when he arrived about two years ago to as low as 217 people. He denied returning the extra tables.

Rechtzigel said the eight serious incidents occurred when the Spoon was rented to promoters for hip-hop or other events. The promoters provided the music, their own security and collected a cover charge at the door.

A police report noted that on Sept. 3, a promoter hired three guards, ages 23 to 26, who carried loaded handguns and were not licensed security guards as state law requires. The trio, who had permits to carry guns, also were drinking while on duty, said police, who broke up three fights that night.

"Our biggest issue was the lack of any security," Rechtzigel said, "and what security there was obviously didn't know what they were doing."

Theng said the three guards furnished by the promoter showed him their gun permits, which he thought was adequate.

The last major disturbance was Oct. 27, when a party bus brought revelers to the Spoon. Patrons scattered that night when a man brandished a handgun, the police report said. Police never found the gun but broke up fights involving about 25 people. Rechtzigel said about 10 squad cars were needed, including backup from neighboring cities, to gain control.

The report noted that a potential problem was avoided last May. Minneapolis police called with word that known gang members had planned a rap music party, another promoter event, at the Spoon. Police told Theng, who canceled the event.

Council Member Goodwin said some cultural differences may be involved, and officials have tried repeatedly to explain restaurant regulations to the couple. "We are trying to give this husband and wife one last chance to get it right," he said. "But they have to understand how serious it is."

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283

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