Minneapolis plans to strip the liquor license of a Lake Street restaurant, La Que Buena, after years of trying to stem persistent fights and shootings there.
Such revocations are rare, occurring less than once a year when the city’s attempts to reform a business have failed repeatedly. The last high-profile instance was in 2014, when another Lake Street establishment, Champions bar, shut down after the city pulled its license.
A City Council panel voted on the revocation this week, an action that still requires ratification by the full council next week. An attorney for the restaurant, at Lake Street and 17th Avenue S., said owners are deciding whether to remain open without serving alcohol.
About a dozen late-night assaults, fights and shootings have taken place in and around La Que Buena since 2011. They included a 30-person brawl, a fight over a gun that resulted in gunshot wounds and an attack with a broken bottle. Employees have been scratched and pistol-whipped by patrons. One person attempted to stab a bouncer, who responded with a baton to the assailant’s face.
Most prominent, however, was the November 2013 shooting of four patrons through a restaurant window — leaving one dead. The killer has not been identified.
“Blood has been shed multiple times at the restaurant, and licensing violations have continued to amass,” Assistant City Attorney Joel Fussy said at a hearing this week. “At some point, it is incumbent upon the city to deny the privilege of continued liquor license operation at a site with such a lengthy history of both license violations and disruptive and dangerous criminal activity. That time is now, and quite frankly, it’s overdue.”
The restaurant’s manager, Cindy Leon, said the business has been working hard to keep bad actors out. A roundup of violent incidents in an administrative law judge’s review of the matter shows that many occurred after staff refused to serve or tried to eject customers.
“It’s the neighborhood. You can take us out, and the neighborhood is still going to be poisoned,” Leon said. “Making us leave is only going to bring back what we cleaned up on our block. Because our security takes care of the whole block.”
The city’s revocation would extend beyond what the administrative law judge recommended in October. The judge advised the city to pull the restaurant’s late-night food license but allow it to keep the liquor license, subject to conditions.
Fussy said the city pursued both revocations, however, because most of the incidents occurred before 2:30 a.m., when a late-night food license isn’t needed.
“Not going by [the judge’s recommendation] isn’t a minor exception,” Jordan Kushner, an attorney for the restaurant’s owner, told the committee. “That’s basically the difference between whether La Que Buena can remain in business or not.”
The city brings in problem businesses for settlement conferences to hash out a change in operations. Officials highlighted Tuesday that La Que Buena has had three such conferences, more than any of the city’s 400 other on-sale liquor license holders.
Among the changes La Que Buena agreed to was installing emergency exit hardware on the rear door — required by building codes. Kushner said the business did not follow through after learning it would cost more than $30,000 because of an obstruction outside.
“Here we know there is a fire code issue,” Council Member Lisa Goodman said. “In addition to that, there is a lengthy record of unwillingness to abide by license settlement conditions.”
Restaurant owner Juan Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter, pleaded with the committee to allow him to keep the license.
“My wife and my children and my family, we have struggled to keep this business going,” Sanchez said. “We want to keep moving forward. I feel very nervous right now.”