Under the radar

Chico liquor-license requests quietly ushered in

Chris Yarbrough, owner of Kona’s Sandwiches in downtown Chico, hopes to get a license allowing him to serve draft beer to his customers.

Chris Yarbrough, owner of Kona’s Sandwiches in downtown Chico, hopes to get a license allowing him to serve draft beer to his customers.


This year, the controversial matter of liquor sales and liquor licenses, and the city’s perceived heavy-handed control over the process of acquiring such licenses, have dominated the headlines.

The Mangrove Mini Mart was nearly denied the right to sell beer and wine; the Winchester Goose craft-beer bar barely survived what was later determined to be a clerical or typographical error by someone on city staff; and the owner of an as-yet-unopened bar on Broadway went back and forth with the city, trying to gain what he believed are reasonable (and, in his mind, much-needed) hours of liquor service.

“No booze for you!” seemed to be the bottom line issued by both the Chico Police Department and city officials to those looking to offer spirits to their patrons. But in the last few weeks, one downtown eatery has received a license to sell beer and wine and another is close to achieving the same.

The city’s policy on alcohol sales is a bit in flux. On one hand, there is pressure to reign in the drunken behavior that sometimes stains the town’s reputation, and on the other, there is the call for nongovernmental intervention and free-market rights. Brendan Vieg, a Chico city planner, said the city is taking a look at existing alcohol-sales policy.

“I don’t think we’ve had significant changes in policy,” he said. “We are making some changes to the [municipal] code.”

Vieg called the Mangrove Mini Mart situation—an initial denial followed by approval—a “hiccup” in the process.

John Cheun and Mintae Kim own Enjoy Teriyaki, on the corner of West Fifth Street and Broadway in downtown Chico. For many years, that building was occupied by a Taco Bell restaurant and, more recently, Adanberto’s Mexican Food. Enjoy Teriyaki opened there in February.

In August, Kim and Cheun applied for a liquor license. On Aug. 17, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control posted a sign in the window alerting the public to that request. The sign said the public had 30 days to protest the issuing of the license. No one did, but it seems that somewhere along the line the application got lost in the shuffle, either by the police department, which is asked for its recommendations on such applications, or by the ABC.

Cheun made an inquiry with the CPD as to the application’s status, and soon afterward it was approved by the ABC. He and Kim now offer Sapporo and Coors Light beer, and Korean sake with the venue’s teriyaki plates and orders of tempura.

Cheun, who was born in South Korea and had lived in Yuba City for 20 years before moving to Chico and opening the restaurant, was a bit cautious when asked about the delay on the license.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It took a couple months. It took a long time. But now everything is fine. It is working. I’m happy to get it.” Cheun is a very friendly fellow and, it would seem, does not want to in any way criticize the way his liquor license was granted.

A few blocks to the northeast of Enjoy Teriyaki there is an ABC alcohol-license-request sign taped to the window of Kona’s Sandwiches. This one alerts the public about a request to transfer an existing liquor license to Kona’s. The license formerly belonged to Lisa and Tyler Cooke, owners of the now-defunct Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack, which was located on the corner of Third and Main streets before closing earlier this year.

The license was purchased by Will Brady, owner of The Banshee bar and restaurant on Second Street and the above-mentioned yet-to-be-opened bar—B Street Oyster Co.—on Broadway, next to Collier Hardware.

Brady and Kona’s owner, Chris Yarbrough, are partners in a business called Red Lantern Inc. Yarbrough, who’s owned Kona’s since 2007, said he is relying on Brady’s experience in the liquor-license arena to help gain a liquor license for his restaurant.

“With the way things are this year, we just want to make sure that we’re up to par with what the regulations are,” Yarbrough said. “We’re just trying to make sure that everybody’s on the same page so that we can all cooperate and get along easily in the environment.”

He said he’d just gotten back from meeting with the ABC in Redding and that the licensing process was a “very thorough process.”

“And that’s good, because they make sure the parties going into such an investment are responsible,” he said. “There are monitoring efforts from point A to point Z—and there’d be more, if there were letters beyond that.”

Yarbrough said beer is what will be on tap once the license is granted, adding that he had just left a message with Chico Police Lt. George Laver to meet and discuss the situation.

“I want to see if there is anything I’m expected to do that I am not aware of,” Yarbrough said. “We’ve been doing all the research and [have been] very involved with the [public] meetings this year, so we just want to make sure we are on the same page.”

Laver, who is the police contact person for businesses with or looking for liquor licenses, said the request initially goes to the ABC, which then asks the police department for its input.

“Before we get back to them, we contact the business owner to discuss concerns and options,” he said. “We make sure they are not surprised by the ABC.”

Laver said there has been some misunderstanding lately about how the process works and where police policy stands. Laver pointed to the 400-plus-page report filed by Chief Kirk Trostle at the request of the City Council that looked at how other California cities and communities deal with liquor matters; the items cited—such as no drumming or karaoke where alcohol is served—were not recommendations, he said, only examples.

“I think one of the big things that came about was that we included in the staff report something about no live entertainment,” Laver said. “We were never against it. We only want it to be appropriate for the setting. If Kona’s has a live rock band playing at 2 in the afternoon and shaking the walls of the businesses on either side of them, that is just not right.

“The music-industry folks thought we were trying to outlaw live music completely, and trying to send all the live music to Berkeley or Davis or wherever. That was absolutely the furthest thing from what we’re trying to do. We just need some conditions in place.”

Laver said there is also the concern that restaurants with Type 47 liquor licenses—those for which food sales must exceed liquor sales—may try to stay open late at night by relying more on booze sales than food sales.

“We’re trying to keep restaurants from morphing into bars at late hours,” he said. “We already have enough of those establishments.”