DC Alcohol Board Lets Chef Mendelsohn Escape Liquor License Protest
By Larry Janezich
Posted July 1, 2021
ANC6B fired a warning shot across celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s bow in May when they voted unanimously to ask the Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration for a 30 day extension of the deadline to protest the proposed move of his Santa Rosa Taqueria to the corner of 3rd and PA Ave, SE. The letter to ABRA said the Commission would formally protest the move if Mendelsohn did not agree to the extension or if ABRA did not approve it. Mendelsohn owns a string of side by side restaurants on PA Ave, SE, including We the Pizza, Good Stuff Eatery, and Santa Rosa. He plans to add an ice cream parlor to the mix located in the former Lustre Cleaners location next to We the Pizza.
ABRA – apparently failing to give the ANC decision the “great weight” it’s entitled by DC regulations – refused the requested extension and ignored the ANC’s stated intent to protest if ABRA didn’t grant it.
Mendelsohn is close to Mayor Bowser who appointed him head of DC’s Food Policy Council in 2015 and last year appointed him (and his sometime representative hospitality industry attorney Andrew Kline) to the ReOpen DC Committee on restaurants and food.
ANC6B and Mendelsohn have jousted before over rodents and trash, and neighbors continue to produce evidence of Mendelsohn’s on-going failures to address their concerns, as pictured above.
ANC6B Alcohol Committee resident member Chander Jayaraman was behind the push for the deadline extension to give neighbors an opportunity to meet with the restaurant’s owner to discuss their concerns. As a former ANC commissioner and former Chair of the ABC Committee, Jayaraman had used the ANC’s power to vote to support or oppose liquor license applications to exact best operating practices from food and beverage outlets seeking to operate in Southeast Capitol Hill. The ANC has been trying for years to require Mendelsohn to provide indoor trash storage as other restaurants have agreed to do.
After ABRA rejected the request to delay, the ANC had no opportunity to act before the expiration of the period for protest. In an attempt to salvage something, the ANC agreed to support the relocation contingent upon receipt of a signed Settlement Agreement detailing best practice operational standards, including a requirement for indoor trash storage. Mendelsohn signed the Settlement Agreement, after striking through the indoor trash storage requirement.
At the June 8 meeting of the full ANC, a majority of the ANC yielded, figuring some of the loaf was better than none, and vowing to try again when the liquor license is up for renewal in two years. The vote to support the move – technically a “substantial change” in the liquor license – was 6 – 1 – 3, with commissioner Sroufe opposed and abstentions coming from Holman, Oldenburg and Holtzman. Some of those who abstainte objected to Mendelsohn’s refusal to appear before the ANC in support of his application.
ANC6B Chair Brian Ready subsequently told colleagues that in a follow-up conversation with a representative of ABRA he was told that the appropriate procedure would have been to simultaneously file a protest and a request for an extension. The agenda for the upcoming July 13 meeting of the ANC includes a request to ABRA to send that requirement in writing.
Asked for comment, Ready said, “This Settlement Agreement did not have most of the items that the ANC and the community wanted but having some agreement is better than no agreement. When the liquor license comes up for renewal, the community will be able to get the items needed in the Settlement Agreement or the license will be protested.”