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The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control reduced a liquor violation fine for Lamb's Grill to $2,500 after lawyers determined that incorrect information was used to impose the sanction last week.
During its monthly meeting on Nov. 29, the state liquor commission voted unanimously to impose a $9,000 fine on the Main Street restaurant for failure to notify the DABC that its ownership had changed, a violation of the state's Transfer of License Act.
At the time, the state liquor commission was told that Lamb's had committed a "grave" violation, which comes with fines ranging from $9,000 to $25,000. The commissioners imposed what they believed was the minimum allowed.
Sheila Page, the assistant attorney general assigned to DABC, later realized incorrect information had been given to the commissioners and the Lamb's mistake was a first violation, so the fines should not be as severe, ranging between $1,000 and $25,000.
In a special liquor commission meeting called Thursday to correct the problem and held via conference call commissioners voted 6-0 to lower the fine.
"The commissioners felt the violation by Lamb's was not intentional, that Lamb's ownership took responsibility and that Lamb's has put in place plans and procedures to make sure such a violation would not occur in the future," a DABC news release states.
One of the oldest restaurants in the state and known for its antique wooden bar, Lamb's Grill was told it needed to stop serving alcohol in early October after it failed to inform the DABC that the majority ownership had changed in June 2014. Co-owner Wayne Barlow said operating without a state liquor license for just two months has cost Lamb's at least $40,000 in profits and has put the venerable Salt Lake City restaurant on the verge of closing.
Lamb's has since reapplied and been approved for a new full-service restaurant license, which will allow it to serve beer, wine and spirits to customers who order food. Once Barlow pays the $2,500 fine and compliance officers sign off on the restaurant's new "Zion Curtain" enclosure, Lamb's will be able serve liquor legally. Barlow expected that to happen by the end of the week.
Lamb's Grill was previously exempt from having the 7-foot-tall barrier known as a "Zion Curtain" because it had a liquor license before 2009. That's when a state law took effect that mandated all new restaurants have a room or barrier to shield patrons from seeing the mixing and pouring of alcoholic beverages. When Lamb's lost its license, it was reclassified as a new restaurant and required to build a "Zion Curtain."
"We're pleased that the Attorney General's Office called the meeting to consider the lower amount," said Lamb's attorney Tanner Lenart. "Lamb's plans to pay the fine and get the wall up as soon as possible. They should be back to serving cocktails before Christmas."
Lamb's opened in 1919 in Logan and moved in 1939 to its current location at 169 S. Main St. in Salt Lake City. Francis Liong and his wife, Joan Barlow, took over the operation in 2011. After the couple divorced in 2014, Barlow and her father, Wayne, bought out Liong's equity. The Barlows have said they believed that Liong submitted the proper ownership papers at the time of the sale. But that was not the case.
Under state law, a liquor license does not automatically transfer to new business owners. Before any sale, potential owners must contact the DABC, which requires, among other items, a criminal-background check and financial review to ensure there are no delinquent taxes. If those measures are not in place when the sale is made, the license is automatically forfeited.
DABC compliance officers learned about the ownership change at Lamb's at the end of September when the restaurant submitted its annual renewal application and fee. The restaurant was told it was operating without a valid liquor license and needed to suspend sales immediately.