Wozniak's restaurant averts seizure

  • Article by: CHRIS HAVENS and SUZANNE ZIEGLER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: July 13, 2010 - 9:44 PM

Revenue agents seized alcohol and cash at Gabe's Roadhouse in St. Paul to cover delinquent taxes, but the owner paid in full before they left.

Minnesota Department of Revenue agents seized cash and booze from a St. Paul restaurant and sports bar Tuesday to cover unpaid taxes, but before they left with the items the owner paid the debt in full.

Gabe's Roadhouse, on Lexington Parkway near Como Park, had owed more than $39,000 in delinquent sales taxes since February, according to a list kept by the Revenue Department.

The owner, George Wozniak, gave the department a cashier's check Tuesday afternoon after agents arrived at the bar and began taking things, said Terry Steenblock, the department's director of collections.

"That typically does not happen," she said.

That means the items the agents seized got to stay in the bar and the business will stay open. Had the debt not been paid, the alcohol would have been sold, cash kept and other items auctioned.

When businesses are 10 days or more late in paying taxes from liquor, wine and beer sales, they're put on a list. Once that happens, distributors, wholesalers and other businesses aren't supposed to sell or deliver alcohol to them.

Seizures are rare and considered a last resort, Steenblock said. "We hope we have future compliance," she said.

Tuesday's incident is one in a long string of recent financial troubles for Wozniak, once a widely quoted travel expert in the Twin Cities who has seen his fortunes collapse.

The onetime owner of Hobbit Travel was working at Gabe's this spring. His travel agency had closed months earlier, under the threat of eviction.

He has been struggling to pay property taxes on a six-bedroom house in St. Paul and a vacation property in Wisconsin, as well as bills, including for two French-fry stands that he ran with his brother each year at the Minnesota State Fair.

Fair spokesman Jim Sinclair said Tuesday that Wozniak's brother Dan had paid the outstanding obligations and will be operating the stands this year. "On the basis of payment to those suppliers, we have issued a license to Dan Wozniak for the 2010 fair," he said. "We no longer have a relationship with George Wozniak."

Signs of trouble became public in the spring of 2009 when Hobbit cut its staff in half and closed two offices. Its only remaining location, in downtown Minneapolis, closed unexpectedly on Dec. 22, leaving thousands of customers who had paid for winter and spring trips in limbo. In many cases, Hobbit had never forwarded their payments to airlines or cruise lines, forcing the customers to pay again and seek a refund.

The company later set up a system to repay customers who could not get their money back via their credit cards or had paid with cash or a gift certificate. Some have been repaid.

Staff writer Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report. Chris Havens • 612-673-4148 Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707

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