Pizzeria Caldera loses liquor license until June for selling to minors

Pizzeria Caldera (TripAdvisor)

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – After failing a third consecutive compliance check, Pizzeria Caldera had its liquor license suspended for 120 days until June 4, 2018.

The popular eatery on Broadway owned by Chris Hansen and his wife Miga Rossetti is the first victim of a new ordinance (#1173) adopted in May 2017 which tightens liquor license compliance. The stiffer regulations were developed by Substance Abuse and Tobacco Prevention Coalition head Matt Stech, with the assistance of a committee comprised of Chief Todd Smith, assistant town manager Roxanne Robinson, and Jim Waldrop (representing some liquor license holders).

Among the ordinance’s stipulations is the following cause for suspension of license: “If a business fails a third consecutive compliance check or a third compliance check in a twelve (12) month period, the business shall be subject to suspension for a minimum of one hundred twenty (120) days and shall be subject to revocation proceedings.”

During regular compliance check in 2017, Pizzeria Caldera failed every time.

The first compliance failure was on February 12 and a citation was issued to the employee-server. The employee attended four hours of TIPS training within 30 days as required by town code.

The second compliance failure was on August 13 and a citation was issued to the employee-server. This time the server asked for ID, looked at a Wyoming Driver’s License that stated the person working with the Police Department was 20 years old, and served a bottle of Bud Light anyway.

After two failures, town municipal code requires all employees who serve alcohol to attend four hours of TIPS training within 45 days. Nine employees attended a training given by the Police Department on October 3.

The third consecutive compliance failure was on December 27. The owner, who both served and sold the alcohol, received a citation.

At a hearing at Monday’s regular meeting of the town council, Hansen attempted a variety of defenses including ex post facto law. The first compliance check was done prior to the enacting of the new ordinance. Assistant town attorney Lea Colasuonno was having none of that, explaining it did not apply in this case.

Hansen also claimed the first compliance check was thrown out in court and therefore should not count as one of three.

Again, Colasuonno countered that the language in the ordinance is “failing” a compliance check not being “convicted” of one. She also further explained the reason for the case dismissal was on the part of the prosecuting attorney Becket Hinckley, who refuses to prosecute servers for the infractions, believing it is an offense of the establishment and its owner.

Hansen also reasoned his employees would suffer lost wages and tips, he may lose employees that choose to jump ship while his liquor license is suspended, and he may ultimately lose business to his competitors if pizza seekers can’t get a beer with their food order.

Hansen added that alcohol sales represented about 11% of total sales and in 2017, the restaurant made only an 11% profit.

“So please understand, if you take away our ability to sell alcohol to our guests, you are essentially taking away my ability to turn a profit for the next 120 days and quite possibly beyond,” Hansen closed. “And you are effectively lowering the wage of my front-of-house employees and punishing those who do their jobs properly and in accordance of the law for the failure of others who no longer work at Pizzeria Caldera. (Their employment was terminated due to their failure to follow the law.) Suspension of our liquor license will have a devastating impact on our employees, our business and our family.”

How they voted

Citing that customers were free to BYOB at Pizzeria Caldera until June, councilman Don Frank said he didn’t doubt the restaurant business was difficult and said he was showing compassion by not opting for revocation of the liquor license.

“I take exception to one thing you said,” Frank told Hansen. “We are not hampering your ability to do business. You did that. You failed three times. And I can’t arbitrarily say three strikes and you’re okay.”

“I regret to do this. I don’t like doing this,” Frank added before voting.

Councilman Jim Stanford said the issue was fairly cut and dried for him. “My wife and I have been fans of the business. I hold the owners in high regard,” Stanford said. “Mistakes happen. I just don’t see any wiggle room here. The law is clear. It states ‘shall be suspended.’”

Mayor Pete Muldoon disclosed he knows what it’s like to be FOH. He was a bartender for many years in Jackson.

“It is our ordinance. If we fail to act here we are saying this ordinance is null and void. I don’t know when we would enforce it if we don’t now,” Muldoon said.

Councilwoman Hailey Morton Levinson said it was a difficult decision but a lot of time and effort went into crafting the new ordinance that the council approved last spring in the interest of the health and safety of the community.

Councilman Bob Lenz commented briefly. “That’s what ordinance says. There’s not much wiggle room there.”

A unanimous vote suspended the liquor license for Pizzeria Caldera for 120 days effective February 5, 2018 through June 4, 2018.