Mozambique restaurant in Laguna Beach, known since its opening in 2005 as a venue for live music, expects to reopen for business tonight after a five-day suspension of its license by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The license suspension stems from condition violations over dancing and noise audible 10 feet from the premises on three separate instances last February and March, according to an accusation filed by a department attorney June 2.
The conditions were put in place so nearby residents could experience the quiet enjoyment of their property, said department spokesman John Carr in Sacramento. Fewer than 13 percent of ABC license accusations involve condition violations, according to state records.
Mozambique violated the same conditions in 2015 and paid a $3,000 fine in lieu of a license suspension, Carr said. At that time, the license was placed on probation for a year and the business informed that a subsequent violation could result in a suspension, Carr said.
Owner Ivan Spiers conceded that the restaurant’s license does exclude dancing and that he applied to amend the conditions of the license after the 2015 violation. “They’ve dragged their feet,” he said, of the ABC’s application review process.
A decision on the condition modification is expected by the end of January, Carr said.
“I’m still bewildered; we’ve been running this place the same for 12 years. ABC never bothered about this
before,” said Spiers, who contended that the ABC inquiry stems from harassing complaints by two residents, who live 500 feet from the restaurant.
Spiers declined to name his accusers, who he said have pestered him, city officials and police with complaints about the restaurant since it opened. Mozambique replaced Tortilla Flats, once a favorite of former President Richard Nixon, who established a Western White House in San Clemente during his administration, 1969 until 1974.
Over the years, Spiers has gone to extraordinary efforts to assuage neighbors, including providing door-to-door pick-up service used by 120 patrons on weekend nights to keep cars out of residential areas and keep drunks off the roads.
Currently, 106 businesses in Laguna Beach hold ABC licenses, all of which were active this week with the exception of Mozambique. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the department statewide filed over 2,200 accusations against licensed businesses, according to Carr. Just 300 of those accusations represented cases involving receiving stolen property, hidden ownership, condition violations and other violations of alcoholic beverage laws, said Carr. The majority of accusations involved sales of alcohol to minors, he said.
Spiers said the complaints have cost him $100,000 in legal fees, $100,000 in lost business and $50,000 in lost wages by the 125 people who work for the restaurant.
Mozambique also applied July 1 to amend its city-issued conditional use permit seeking permission for dancing on a 125 square foot area, which was approved by the City Council on Oct. 4. In a Sept. 19 letter about the matter, Community Development Director Greg Pfost noted that ambient noise spilling from the restaurant met the city’s noise ordinance standards, within 65 decibels in a commercial areas. Senior planner Scott Drapkin said this week the restaurant is in “complete compliance” with its permit. City officials have never received a complaint over dancing, he said.
Even so, ABC license restrictions can differ from local regulations and supersede them.
Spiers, who helped open Daryl’s House in Pawling, N.Y., said he is working on opening new restaurants in Charleston, S.C., and Columbus, Ohio. “I would never build another in California,” said Spiers, who is exasperated enough to consider seriously the frequent offers he receives for the property.
“I don’t want to do that to Laguna until all my employees are taken care of,” said Spiers, though his immediate intent is to pursue a revision of the ABC license that allows Mozambique to operate within the letter of the law.