WINTHROP — Town councilors voted this week to deny a liquor license to Peppers Garden & Grill, marking the second time since December 2019 it has denied a license to the business.

After a public hearing, councilors voted unanimously to deny the application.

The application came in with Peppers minority owner Kathleen Langlin’s name on it, but majority owner Jonathan Russell was present to answer questions. Russell was the applicant when a 2019 application was denied based on his three convictions of operating under the influence in 2019. Councilors believed the ownership shake up left too many questions about what has changed at the business.

Russell declined a request for comment for this report.

During a meeting Monday, Russell said he owns 90% of the restaurant after transferring 10% of the business to Langlin, who was described as an employee of Peppers. Langlin was not present at Monday’s meeting, which took place via the Zoom video conferencing application.

Jonathan Russell

Russell said Monday that the restaurant closed Sept. 17, but stopped serving alcohol after an inspector visited on Sept. 12. The restaurant is currently closed, per a Sept. 18 Facebook post.

Russell said Monday he would not be able open the business again without the liquor license.

“I realize my direct actions were the cause for the consequences I’m suffering at this point,” he said. “(Peppers has) been closed down for three months now and I’ve suffered, my employees have suffered and I believe the town of Winthrop has suffered due to that closing.”

Daniel Murphy, Winthrop’s town lawyer, said during the Monday meeting that with the transfer of more than 9% of the business it is “incumbent” on the business to get a new license. However, the business’s license from 2019 is still in the appeals process in Superior Court after the town’s decision to deny Russell a license was affirmed by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

According to a March decision from Hearings Officer Timothy R. Poulin from the state’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operation, an appeal was filed by Russell, the restaurant’s sole shareholder, in December 2019 after the Winthrop Town Council denied his license application.

According to Poulin’s decision, the Town Council denied the application “based on repeated arrests” of Russell “on June 28, Oct. 28, and Nov. 12, 2019, of operating under the influence and other associated charges.”

According to the decision, Russell pleaded guilty to operating under the influence in relation to the June 28 incident, serving two days in jail and paying a $500 fine. On Dec. 10, 2019, he pled guilty to operating under the influence and violating bail conditions on Oct. 17 and Nov. 12. Also during the January hearing, it was determined that Russell consumed alcohol at Peppers while he was under a bail condition that stated that he was not to use or possess alcohol.

Daniel Murphy

Poulin wrote that he denied Russell’s appeal because he was not persuaded that the town’s decision was made without justifiable cause. This decision is currently under appeal in Superior Court.

Councilor Barbara Alexander said she could not see voting to grant Russell’s business a license without seeing Langlin’s job description and the conditions of her ownership. Russell described his role as going into the restaurant to open it, pay bills and check in orders.

He said that Langlin, who would control day-to-day operations, did not pay for any stake in the business.

“If there are any profits, I don’t see any this year, she would be involved in 10% of what we do,” Russell said.

On Thursday, Town Manager Jeff Kobrock said the town did not have any evidence of an ownership change.

“There would not appear to any reasonable person that there is any difference between the license that is under appeal … and the new license that names someone at 10%,” Kobrock said. “He’s simply representing that on his application, we actually don’t know if he’s transferred that ownership.”

Councilor Andy Wess said during the Monday meeting that he was unsure how much control Langlin would have over the business with only 10% stake compared to Russell’s 90% stake. When it came out later in the meeting that Russell filled out the application, Wess said that concern was compounded.

“The whole idea that Jonathan filled out the application … just backs up what I said earlier,” he said. “I almost just feel that this is an effort to circumvent the rules of a liquor license.”

Before ultimately voting to deny the application on Monday, Councilor Priscilla Jenkins expressed interest in helping the business reopen.

“I’m sitting here thinking this is a business we have appreciated in town for years,” she said. “If the name of the applicant on the license is a person of good standing and the licensee who had problems is stepping back — I understand there is a problem of management and control — but I’d like to do what we can to enable the establishment to reopen.”

Kobrock said Langlin could appeal the Town Council decision. He said the town has not spent much money on legal counseling as a result of the appeals.

Kobrock said town officials were conflicted on denying the license of a “well-recognized” business in town on both occasions.

“It’s well-established and the last thing in the world we want to do is to provide difficulty to local businesses,” Kobrock said. “On the other hand, there were serious character and public safety issues represented by (the) licensee being arrested and subsequently convicted for OUI three times in six (months).”

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