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Chicken & Waffles to get liquor license back

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Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl says she'll end the liquor license suspension for Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles within the next several days.

The mayor announced the decison this afternoon at the conclusion of a nearly three-hour hearing before the city's Liquor Control Review Board.

At the hearing, the owners presented copies of a just-issued state liquor license and renewal of the company's corporate registration with the state.

But they conceded that both had lapsed last year, before they renewed the city liquor license on Oct. 31, and that until after the suspension hearing was scheduled, they had failed to successfully get them renewed.

During the hearing Evanston Police Detective Aaron Warnick testified that when he went to the restaurant to deliver the suspension notice last Friday he saw beer being taken out of a refrigerator and placed in a plastic tub.

The restaurant's manager, Darnell Johnson, testified that he didn't know that having liquor in the building when it lacked a state license was a violation of the state liquor code.

But he denied that the restaurant had sold liquor since the state license lapsed, and said that's why the restaurant didn't owe money to the city for liquor sales last fall.

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said the restaurant was also in violation of the city liquor code because it owes more than $15,000 in overdue payments on a $200,000 city loan used to help launch the business, $33,000 on a right-of-way lease agreement for the restaurant's parking area as well as more than $90,000 in property taxes.

Johnson said the business has been struggling financially and that he and owner Tonya Van Dyke have had to subsidize it with income from their two other restaurants to keep it open.

He said they've been working on finding additional investors and seeking deals to bring music performances and other events to the venue to try to stimulate more business, but that they need the liquor license to be able to make those concepts work.

Liquor Board member Marion Macbeth said she believed the city had gone overboard by claiming, in issuing the suspension, that the restaurant's operation "posed an immediate threat" to the community — noting that there'd been no reports of underage drinking or similar problems at the restaurant.

"I do think you all need to get your house together," Macbeth told the owners, "but in a lot of different ways" the restaurant "is good for this community."

But board member Dave Skrodzki said that, with the city's training requirement for liquor licensees, he found it hard to believe the owners didn't know they couldn't have liquor on the premises when they lacked a license. "Ignorance, that's a problem," Skrodzki added.

Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, both attended the hearing and said they hoped for a resolution that would keep the restaurant open.

Holmes said a different sort of meeting — to try to come to terms on renegotiating the restaurant's financial arrangements with the city — had been scheduled for today before the license suspension issue arose.

Long-time board member Byron Wilson said, "We're mercenaries. We want your business — to get the fees and the sales tax you bring in for Evanston."

The mayor, who could have opted to revoke the restaurant's liquor license, said that she hoped a formal decision lifting the suspension could be delivered within a week.

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