Board: La Comida not singled out | AspenTimes.com

Board: La Comida not singled out

Abigail Eagye

When Aspen’s liquor board temporarily suspended La Comida’s license for failing to comply with employee alcohol training requirements, there was some speculation the board had singled out the Hopkins Avenue restaurant.One local waiter, who declined to give his full name, said he’s worked in numerous Aspen restaurants during the past dozen years and he’s not sure any of those establishments have met the requirement that 75 percent of the employees go through alcohol-service training.City Clerk Kathryn Koch said La Comida wasn’t singled out, but she acknowledged an inconsistency in the system.”It was because they did a transfer [of the liquor license] instead of a renewal,” she said. “That’s what triggered it.”Koch said restaurants applying for new or transferred licenses must provide proof that employees meet the required training within 30 to 60 days of the application.Walt Harris, owner of Syzygy restaurant in Aspen, bought La Comida’s predecessor, La Cocina, last year.Bill Murphy, chairman of the liquor board, said La Comida applied for the transfer in December.At a May 2 board meeting, Koch told the board she sent a letter regarding the unmet conditions to Harris early this year and received assurance that the matter would be taken care of by March 24. “They didn’t do it,” Murphy said. “The clerk kept calling and calling, and they never did it. In effect, what they’ve been doing is operating without a liquor license.”When the matter came before the board again this week, Harris wasn’t present, Murphy said.”That was a major consideration,” he said. Although he said he couldn’t speak for other members of the board, he suspected Harris’ absence might have been an issue for them, as well.Attempts to contact Harris on Wednesday were unsuccessful. As for the notion that La Comida was singled out, Murphy said the liquor board is a quasi-governmental board, not an investigative board. That means it doesn’t actively seek out violators.”It has to be brought to our attention for us to do anything about it,” he said.That’s where the transfer comes in. Restaurants that are merely renewing licenses don’t undergo such close scrutiny – but the city is in the process of changing that, Koch said.”We don’t always do such a good job with annual renewals,” she said. “But we are going to improve that.”Restaurants renewing their liquor licenses are required to document compliance with employee training laws, but the city’s process for maintaining those records is not yet electronic. Once the city switches to keeping records electronically, Koch said, there likely will be more consistency.In the meantime, Murphy said the liquor board will respond in a similar fashion as it did with La Comida if it learns about a violation at another establishment.”If others are called to our attention, we will act,” he said.Technically, La Comida’s suspension is for seven days, but the restaurant must only suspend alcohol sales for two days this week. Murphy said it’s possible the restaurant could escape the remaining five days if Harris shows up at the next meeting.”If he can justify it, fine,” Murphy said. “Or if we feel they’ve served enough time, we can suspend the suspension.”Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com