PINETOP-LAKESIDE—The Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control has served a “notice of violation” on the Lion’s Den Bar and Grill for “violating” Governor Ducey’s Executive Order number 2020-43 mandating a “pause” beginning June 29 in the operations of all bars holding a “series 6 or 7 liquor license.”
Owners of the LLC that run the place, Jay and Diana Charnholm, are distressed and confused and seem to be getting nowhere with the tangle of bureaucracy that has crashed down on them, while other similarly situated establishments are untouched.
In an email to The Independent, Diana Charnholm notes that there are 52 holders of that type of license in the White Mountains and her purpose in bringing that up is not to get them in trouble, too — she is just trying to understand what exactly the Lion’s Den is doing wrong. The LLC employs 27 people and, like other similar establishments, provide a ton of charity to the community.
But that didn’t stop one Herb Carruthers, an investigator with the liquor board from showing up at the Lion’s Den on July 20 with bad news.
According to Jay Charnholm, Investigator Carruthers explained that the board had received an anonymous complaint and therefore had to do something about it, like shut the Lion’s Den down except for take out food and drinks. In a telephone interview with The Independent Sunday, Jay Charnholm said he could still offer sit-down dining only because the Lion’s Den offers off-track-betting entertainment. No doubt there is another set of regulations about that.
But it may take a nuclear physicist to understand the thicket of regulations apparently applicable here. It’s not only Ducey’s decree, the liquor board regulations, the Arizona Department of Health Services mandates, the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines, county health departments, and the even criminal law at work. Into the mix go larger questions of basic American freedom and prosperity and the seemingly capricious hammer of government, wielded for the good of the community. Judging by general public discourse recently, that last part is getting louder.
21 different liquor license types
Among the 21 different liquor licenses issued by the state, there is a series 3 for a microbrewery, a series 16 for a wine festival, a 6 for a bar, a 7 for beer and wine only and a 12 for restaurants which sell liquor. And they are expensive. According to records from the liquor board, a series 6 can cost over $140,000. That is the type the Lion’s Den has. It is defined by regulation (not by law which is voted on by accountable elected representatives) as available only through a lottery conducted by the liquor board, and allows the sale of all types of liquor, including for take out, if the product is in its “original container.”
Ducey’s decree says the word “bars” mean an establishment whose primary business is the sale or dispensing of alcoholic beverages.” But “primary business” is not defined by the regulators, but for restaurants, (a license number 12) at least 40% of revenue must come from food sales.
The Lion Den’s food revenues total 43.27% owners claim. That makes it a restaurant under the board’s own calculation, wrote Charnholm. Diane provided a break down of food sales in 2019 showing the sale of “22,417 burgers, 2,892 pastrami sandwiches, 3,945 dozens of chicken wings and 4,039 baskets of fish and chips. That’s only 4 items from a 39 items menu,” she said.
Jay Charnholm also sent a packet of other information to the liquor board including “restaurant audit sheets,” the liquor department’s own “Executive Order Guidelines,” and evidence of his complying with all CDC guidelines and Navajo County Health Department guidelines.
Jay said that The Lion’s Den opened back up in May after a 55-day shut down, reduced its operating hours, reduced its overall capacity to 69% and quit doing “large events” such as “team trivia and karaoke.”
He remarked to The Independent that his building was built in 1939 and has always functioned as a restaurant.
He closed his letter by pleading with the board: “We would like the opportunity to show what kind of business we are running, and would especially like the opportunity fo put our 27 workers back to work.”
The board’s view
In a saccharin-laden July 31 response, the board’s Deputy Director Michael Rosenberger wrote that he “could only imagine how difficult position small business owners like yourself are in.”
He went on to explain that that it’s “great” that they are complying with guidelines, but the various decrees, guidelines and regulations are all separate and “One has nothing to do with the other.”
Finally in typical amorphous regulatory language, Rosenberg concluded: “Just being over 40% food does not make a location less of a bar ... nor does 40% automatically make a location a pure restaurant.”
It might be helpful to business owners if there were actually a law that said that.
Finally, a resident who did not identify herself wrote to The Independent about her experience last weekend when she went out to her “favorite places.” The Lion’s Den was shut down, but after doing some research about which establishments had what type of license, she found that similarly situated spots with the same license as The Lion’s Den were merrily buzzing with non-distancing, unmasked patrons. She does not understand the difference in treatment, but she has a lot of company.