After much debate about cultural misunderstandings and accountability for past nightclub fights, the Apple Valley City Council has refused to renew the liquor license of a restaurant with a history of brawls and fire code violations.
The council voted 3-2 to deny a license renewal requested by Spoon at 14871 Granada Av. The council majority defeated a motion to give the owners, born in Indochina, another temporary license through March. The council previously granted a one-month license for January to owners Kav Theng and Van Ngo, who bought the restaurant two years ago.
The owners have said a liquor license is essential for staying in business. Theng, 32, declined to comment Tuesday on whether they would reapply for a license. His attorney, Mike Patten, has said they may litigate the matter.
The crux of the hourlong discussion at the Jan. 24 council meeting focused on the owners' recent posting of signs at their club for three upcoming events. The posters, partly written in Cambodian, say the events, including a Valentine's Day Party, will have music and dancing, and will raise funds to renovate an area temple, the couple told the council.
But the three events, planned for February and March, appear to conflict with the conditions set in Spoon's proposed new license. It forbids holding nightclub-type events that are open to the public.
The couple told the council in broken English that people would be screened at the door and only Cambodians or other Indochinese families admitted. They said a band would play traditional music of their culture. They also agreed to take alcohol server training arranged by police.
When Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland asked if they would add "Private Party" to their posters, Theng replied, "We can fix it."
That wasn't enough for Council Members John Bergman, Clint Hooppaw and Ruth Grendahl. They voted to deny the liquor license, citing public safety and other concerns. The trio defeated a motion by Tom Goodwin and the mayor to give the couple one more "last chance" by approving a short-term license through March 31.
Several council members criticized Theng and Ngo for not discussing the three posted events with police before publicizing them.
"This whole thing doesn't add up to me," Hooppaw said. "The last thing I want to see is an officer or patron hurt or killed by someone who caused the problems in September or October," when police broke up fights at the club.
The couple, who live in Burnsville with their three children, said they didn't talk to the city about the upcoming three events because they were to be private cultural events that prior owners had held without problems for eight years.
Goodwin asked Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel if those past cultural events had caused any problems at the restaurant. The chief replied that he recalled none.
"There continues to be communication issues and ... cultural issues," Goodwin said. "I believe they will do the cultural events like the previous owners did so there are no problems. I don't think there was any intent to dupe anybody here."
Rechtzigel had recommended in December that the council deny the license or approve one with strict conditions. He noted police had responded to eight serious incidents at the club since May 2011 to quell fights, most recently in October.
Officers from neighboring cities were called to assist at an Oct. 27 fight involving about 25 people. Patrons reported seeing a man pointing a gun, but police never found it.
Fire department inspectors have warned but not cited Spoon for 27 fire code violations since January 2011. The violations include repeatedly obstructing fire exits and exceeding the 265-person occupancy limit.
Fire Chief Nealon Thompson said at the last council meeting that he had met with the owners, who posted a correct occupancy sign and rectified a few minor violations, bringing them into compliance.
Hamann-Roland told the couple she wanted new businesses like theirs to succeed, despite the poor communication with the city and cultural misunderstandings. She said she relied partly on a police officer's report that the couple had been very cooperative to his request that they attend voluntary liquor server training as soon as the state makes that available in coming weeks.
Council Member Grendahl said cultural differences aren't valid reasons for not complying with city rules that other businesses must follow.
Hooppaw said his license denial vote was the hardest thing he has done in his two years on the council. He said that he might support a beer and wine license if the couple reapplied.
"Nobody wants something to fail, especially if it is something unique," he said. But "there is a lack of understanding about how serious this is."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283