Liqour selections

New Haven’s Grand Cafe has been denied liquor license renewal following a public outcry

NEW HAVEN — Their songs, dances, petitions and a formal complaint have been rewarded.

The state Liquor Control Board on Thursday denied the renewal of the liquor license of the Grand Cafe, at the corner of Grand Avenue and East Pearl Street.

Karen DuBois-Walton, Kica Matos and Sarah Miller organized their neighbors to occupy the small place where the cafe is located for two weeks in the summer with three other companies.

They brought in musicians and other entertainment in order to put an end to the disruptive behavior of police records that has occurred there over the years.

More than 200 neighbors and officials signed a petition of remonstrance. This culminated in two days of hearings to deny the cafe renewal of its liquor license at its longtime location in Fair Haven.

DuBois-Walton said their actions show what can be accomplished when neighbors come together to tackle a problematic business.

The commission, in its ruling, said its “power to suspend or revoke a liquor license is exercised with care, but bearing in mind that the distribution of liquor is a privilege, not a right.

“…Based on the substantial evidence given at the hearing and the evidence on record, it is not a privilege that we believe should be conferred on the plaintiff,” he said.

DuBois-Walton was particularly pleased that the commission determined that the location, on the edge of a residential area, was not an appropriate site for a bar, which she hopes means a similar type of cafe will not s will not install there in the future.

Jose Rivera, co-owner of the Grand Café, during the hearing blamed people loitering in the parking lot of the plaza where his business is located for any neighborhood disturbance, not his customers.

Cafe lawyer David Crow, contacted on Thursday, said he should speak with his client to see what the next step is. He said he was disappointed with the result, but praised DuBois-Walton for his leadership in organizing the community.

He said six employees are now out of work, Rivera has lost his business and the owner will have empty space.

DuBois, who took it upon himself to present the case to the commission, said he pointed out the type of behavior required of a café near a school and daycare center that Grand Café did not have. respected.

DuBois-Walton, executive director of the city’s Housing Authority who also lives near the cafe, said if the landlords had expressed an interest in resolving their issues over the years with neighbors, things might have been different.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Consumer Protection said the cafe was essentially closed on Thursday, though he could appeal the decision. If he had a restaurant license, he could still serve food, but he had a cafe license.

More than a dozen police reports linking cafe patrons to alleged assaults and drug dealing dating back to 2016 have been filed. The parking lot was also the scene of a shooting on September 7, 2021, which gave impetus to the petition.

New Haven Police Lt. Michael Fumiatti, District Director of Fair Haven, testified to the veracity of the reports detailed by DuBois-Walton during the hearings.

The commission said the reports demonstrated “a long and substantial history of illegal activity occurring inside the premises, in addition to illegal activity in the parking lot”.

“This resulted in an unreasonable and disproportionate amount of police involvement,” according to the report.

He referenced illegal drugs found in his basement in 2017 and the shooting, though he incorrectly said it happened inside the cafe.

The majority of the testimonies came from neighbors who felt threatened by people lurking there and the alleged drug dealing that police report, using an informant, describes in detail.

“Many people have come forward to express their fear for their physical safety and that of their families. Many also mentioned that the quality of life in the neighborhood was affected by the presence of the bar,” the report noted.

He was also referring to DuBois-Walton’s point that there was a continued lack of response to community concerns.

“It also appears that the plaintiff was passive in the operation of the business and made very limited attempts to resolve issues associated with the business. It also appears that there was very little effort to reach out and be part of the community,” he said.

The Grand Café has 15 calendar days to ask the commission to reconsider its decision in the event of an error of fact or law; new evidence that gets to the bottom of the case; “or another valid reason for reconsideration can be demonstrated.”

The company can also appeal to the Superior Court.

Crow, in his closing arguments following the December hearing, said the impact of closing the Grand Café “doesn’t necessarily solve the (drug) problem”, but it will hurt others immediately.

“What will you tell them if you close this business and the drug business continues and you see them (the coffee shop workers) on the street?” he asked then.

DuBois-Walton said she hopes something can be done to help them find jobs while this harmful business is closed.