City Council suspends Rice Street restaurant’s liquor license despite neighborhood support

For seven days in August, Kavin Choua Thao ran his Rice Street restaurant without liquor liability insurance, a violation of St. Paul city ordinances.

Thao told the city council this week that he corrected the problem as soon as he realized his insurance had lapsed.

A neighborhood organization came to his defense. The council was unmoved.

On Wednesday, over the objection of the North End Neighborhood Organization but at the request of the St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections, the city council chose to suspend Pupraya Thai Restaurant’s liquor license for 10 days.

The neighborhood group had asked for complete forgiveness, or a shorter penalty.

“Because in our estimation this business is a model of how establishments should be run in the neighborhood, we believe the proposed punishment is disproportionate and unnecessary,” said NENO Chairman Rich Holst in a letter to the city council.

Instead, City Council Member Dai Thao offered the option of splitting the license suspension into two five-day segments, which the restaurant owner can schedule at any time of his choosing within the next six months, so as not to lose business over the holidays.

The council member called insurance lapses a serious concern for the city.

However, Holst disagreed with the decision.

“It’s ridiculous that an outstanding minority owned business and asset to the neighborhood received a ruinous punishment for a minor technical violation while white owned businesses like Born’s (bar), where multiple people have been hurt or died in the last few years, glide along scot-free,” Holst said in a text to a reporter.

Kavin Choua Thao told the city in writing, and again in person on Wednesday, that his insurance underwriter had failed to inform him about his insurance end-date but he quickly involved his insurance agent, who helped correct the problem.

The insurance covers potential claims related to alcohol-related injury or property damage caused by patrons.

NENO members were unanimous in their support for the restaurant owner, and some quietly pointed to other North End bars that have become magnets for violence for contrast.

“He’s been open six or seven years and he’s never had an issue,” said NENO director Kerry Antrim, in an interview. “We understand there’s a matrix (penalty schedule), but they can deviate from the matrix.”


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