TJ's Japanese Steakhouse used to be a $2.2 million business. When it was cited in 2012 for serving a beer to a 20-year-old, the restaurant was over the limit for the city's demerit system, the Post-Crescent Media reported Sunday.
That touched off a 16-month process that concluded last month when the owners surrendered their liquor license under threat of revocation and sold the business.
City Alderman Jeff Jirschele wonders if there's a way to deal with the issue that doesn't lead to such extreme outcomes.
"My concern is we virtually have an execution order and can serve a financial death sentence to a business owner if they lose their license," Jirschele said.
Jirschele is calling for a review of the revocation rules in Appleton's ordinance.
Stacy Doucette, the assistant city attorney who handles the revocation process, said the system works as intended. She also noted there have been only two such hearings since 2012, suggesting little need for an overhaul.
A citation for underage serving costs $389 and carries a penalty of 80 demerit points. After 200 points a business's liquor license can be revoked.
Fox Valley developer Bob Gregorski, who sent letters to City Hall during the deliberations into TJ's case, said the system might encourage tavern owners to relocate to Oshkosh or Green Bay, neither of which uses a demerit point system. He also said a single bad bartender could ultimately cause the owner to lose millions of dollars in investments.
Jirschele said bars that go out of business not only hurt entrepreneurs but also lead to the blight of vacated buildings.
Alderwoman Kathy Plank wasn't convinced. She said the law is applied fairly and it gives bar owners plenty of opportunity to make corrections before punitive action is taken.
The TJ's sting involved a 20-year-old community service officer who ordered a beer. After being served, the minor slipped out and notified a police officer stationed nearby.
Appleton Police Lt. Jay Steinke said undercover workers can't appear older than their age and aren't chosen to deceive bartenders. He said they have no ID on them, and if they're asked about their age or any other question they're not allowed to lie.