Restaurants selling alcohol risk losing license

A restaurant owner in San Clemente is opening his doors again Thursday despite the threat of losing his liquor license.  

Nomad's Canteen opened on May 1 and immediately sold out of everything. The co-owner, Jeff Gourley, admits some people did not adhere to social distancing guidelines, though he posted signs. He is now planning to hire security guards to make sure people safely distance. 

"We've set everything at social distancing around my bar. We've got the signs. We've got about 40% of our interior set up instead of 100%," said Gourley.

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Gourley knows he is not in compliance with the state mandate, but said his business is "essential." 

"A place like this is essential because I have 25 employees. They have kids, they have families and they need to work," said Gourley. 

The reopening of the canteen has come with consequences. Health inspectors from Orange County visited the establishment on Sunday to notify Gourley he was in violation of the order. 

"They haven't been overly threatening but they have said, this is your consequence Jeff, if you do this, here's what can happen," said Gourley. 

Gourley also faces losing his liquor license. 

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The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has received about 100 complaints in the past six weeks about licensees opening their businesses in defiance of the order. However, 98% of the cases agreed to voluntarily close. 

According to the department, for any licensee who has continued to operate despite the Department’s efforts to persuade them to voluntarily comply, the Department is pursuing administrative action against the licensed premises, an action that could result in the suspension or revocation of the license.

"We will contact them [licensees] and we will work with them to be voluntary with compliance," said Jacob Appelsmith, the Director of California Alcoholic Beverage Control, ABC. 

Appelsmith said businesses could lose their licenses if they do not comply though. 

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"If they open up in defiance of the order, they are subject to discipline of their license which in an extreme case could result in having their license revoked," said Appelsmith. 

Appelsmith said they are working with businesses that are struggling during the pandemic.  

"We're very proud of our industry. We're very concerned about what they're going through and we're welcoming their questions and requests and ideas," said Appelsmith. 

Gourley said he has been following the guidelines from his county officials, and some members of the Board of Supervisors have supported his efforts to reopen. 

"Once I got word from the county officials that essentially it was up to them and their opinion, and they're the ones who have always been my contact, I opened up on May 1st," said Gourley.

However, Appelsmith said state guidelines should be followed instead.

"Our view is that they should follow the state mandate," said Appelsmith. 

Gourley said he is opening his business for his family and for his country. He said he does not want to lose his business that he worked hard to build. He said he gets close to 300 emails each day, some people supporting his reopening, and others who are upset by his decision. 

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"It's been an emotional battle everything from death threats to [emails saying] you're the greatest American in the world, 50/50 right down the middle, just like our country seems to be. Number one, we're all exhausted, and number two, it is a real virus. I wish we could not have this situation, but being on the street or being bankrupt is not going to help it," he said. 

ABC is advising licensees to keep their premises closed to dine-in customers and on-site consumption of alcoholic beverages, post signage indicating limited service, and prohibit patrons from gathering or congregating on their premises. 

Gourley will reopen his business Thursday at noon.

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