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State to start suspending liquor licenses over inadequate seating, food at some establishments | TribLIVE.com
Pennsylvania

State to start suspending liquor licenses over inadequate seating, food at some establishments

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Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Fine Wine & Good Spirits store in Murrysville
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Valley News Dispatch
Rich Rosella of Allegheny Township, who runs the 6 Pack and Doghouse on Pittsburgh Street in Cheswick, re-stocks a bottle of beer at his store. Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch

In addition to the taps and bottles and cans of beer, the Korner Pub is stocking cans of soup.

Co-owner Rob Full said a case of Campbell’s behind the Mt. Lebanon bar is enough to keep the establishment in compliance with its “eating place” liquor license now that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board plans to start flexing its new power to immediately suspend licenses of establishments that don’t meet requirements for having food, seating and place settings for at least 30 people.

“A bag of chips wouldn’t count, but a can of soup will. … The place settings can be plastic,” Full said. “If people want us to heat up a can of soup in the microwave, they can.”

Previously, the PLCB could only challenge an establishment’s license when it was up for renewal, but under Act 44 of 2017 the board can now suspend a license immediately if it doesn’t meet all requirements for seating, food, square footage, rooms and health license authority. Previously, the state police Liquor Control Enforcement bureau could write citations for noncompliance, but those would generally take months to years to resolve and have little to no effect on the establishment’s licensing, PLCB spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said.

“What this does is gives us the authority to immediately suspend a license for any deficiency,” she said

PLCB’s unscheduled inspections will only come in response to a complaint, Brassell said.

The expanded authority was intended to allow the PLCB to tackle so-called “Stop-n-Go” stores in the Philadelphia area, where bottles of beer are sold without the food or seating their restaurant or eating-place licenses required. But it could also affect bars without full kitchens, like the Korner Pub, or bottle shops that serve only a small selection of food.

Dave Carl, owner of Brews Brothers on the other side of Mt. Lebanon, said he has enough ramen noodle cups and frozen hot dogs and buns to meet his restaurant license requirements, along with a back bar that provides adequate seating.

“If somebody comes in and wants to order a hot dog, I tell them it’s going to take about 30 minutes because we have to defrost it and roll it,” Carl said. Despite that, he said he has still served about a half-dozen hot dogs over his 10 years in business, mostly to people relaxing and willing to sip beers while they wait.

“It used to be people would have a can of baked beans under the counter and a bunch of fold-out chairs… It was kind of a farce,” said Rich Rosella, owner of Allegheny 6 Pack and Doghouse in Cheswick.

He welcomed the new inspections, if only to make sure the playing field among restaurant license-holders was as even as possible. Shops like his faced extra competition from grocery stores and gas stations that could now sell beer in their “cafe” areas, and beer distributors who could sell single bottles even as he couldn’t sell an entire case.

To remind license holders of the requirements and the new process for inspections and suspensions, the state is publishing information on its website , emailing license holders and distributing information about the new program to industry and community groups.

PLCB inspectors will start investigating complaints about license violations starting in January, to give license holders time to familiarize themselves with the program and preemptively fix any problems, Brassell said.

State police will still handle complaints about establishments over-serving patrons, causing disturbances, serving minors or engaging in other criminal conduct.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, [email protected] or via Twitter @msantoni.

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