By Devin Rose
A handful of Oak Park restaurants visited last month by undercover agents from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission sold alcohol to underage patrons, a news release from the commission said.
Of the 11 licensees checked in Oak Park on Nov. 15, five sold alcohol to volunteers who were under 21 years old. The businesses not in compliance were The Kinderhook Tap, Margarita's Restaurant, Giordano's, Papaspiros and King And I.
Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the consequences for these businesses depend on how many, if any, previous violations they've received. Punishments could range from fines — $500 is fairly standard for the first violation and could increase to anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 for subsequent ones — to suspensions. Hofer said revocation is a worst-case scenario, but does not happen very often.
"The goal is not to shut down restaurants and bars," she said. "Our goal is to stop them from selling liquor to kids."
Hofer could not say whether the Oak Park establishments have prior violations. She said they'll likely be adjudicated in three or four months. Oak Park Police Commander LaDon Reynolds said the department has not received any complaints from the cited establishments within the last year regarding alcohol sales to minors.
Chris Withey, manager at The Kinderhook Tap, said the November check resulted in the business' first violation. He said they got a citation notice when the sale was made and then got a letter in the mail that said how much the fine was for. Withey said he could not comment on the fine amount.
The Illinois Liquor Control Commission agents work with local police departments around the state to determine when and where to conduct underage checks, Hofer said. A check may occur if the commission receives a complaint about underage sales at a particular business. The check might also be random, or be scheduled around when more undercover volunteers are available. Events like prom or homecoming also prompt the checks, Hofer said. Many of the underage volunteers are high school seniors or college freshman. They attempt to purchase alcohol with their state-issued IDs and are accompanied by staff from the commission.
In the police department, Reynolds said two officers are being trained now in the Illinois Liquor Control Commission's Beverage Alcohol Sellers and Servers Education and Training program, or BASSET. Those officers will then educate sellers and servers about how to stop underage alcohol sales and drinking, how to prevent DUIs and how to create a safe establishment where alcohol is served. The officers will start to administer that training to business owners in 2013.