El Cactus to lose liquor license


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Citing outstanding debt obligations, the Iowa City City Council voted to strip an east Iowa City Mexican restaurant’s ability to sell alcohol Tuesday, following a recommendation this week by Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine.

The council voted 6-1 to deny the liquor-license renewal for El Cactus Restaurant, 1921 Keokuk St., calling to attention a 2013 case in which the business sold alcohol to a minor, as well as poor financial practice.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton was the lone dissenter in the decision to deny the businesses’ renewal.

“How can they make enough money to pay off the bills if they can’t sell alcohol,” he said.

Despite the near-unanimous passage, some councilors agreed that the language regarding liquor-license denials and how such laws are enforced are murky territory.

“What do we use to say that someone is in poor financial standing,” Councilor Michelle Payne asked the council. “Do we run a credit check on them?”

City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes, who met with restaurant officials on Tuesday afternoon, said the restaurant is allowed to stay open pending an appeals process.

“Generally, if someone cannot take care of their finances, it may be an indication that they are not capable of the sale of alcohol, which requires a lot of attention to details,” she said.

Hargadine said he has attempted to work with owners Ivan Armendariz and Jose Lopez, regarding recent litigation against the business, hoping to notify them of initial recommendation.

Both civil lawsuits were disputed between the owner and Reinhart Foodservice, a regional food distributor.

The first case was filed on Feb. 28 in Johnson County and the second on March 26 in Linn County.
According to Iowa Courts Online, the Johnson County lawsuit has been settled for $5,280.68 as of July 10. The Linn County case is still waiting for a resolution.

The settlement costs are $4,821, according to the online records.

These cases go against “good moral character” for a business, Hargadine told the council.
Representatives of El Cactus, including the company’s owners, were not present at Tuesday evening’s meeting, and calls seeking comment from the owners were not immediately returned to The Daily Iowan.

The restaurant’s two other locations, in Coralville at 104 First Ave., and in Cedar Rapids at 588 Boyson Road N.E. No. 124, will remain open.

In the face of drawn-out discussions over whether to deny the renewal, Mayor Matt Hayek maintained that Iowa City police officials were on “solid ground” to recommend the denial.

“This is consistent with past practice,” Hayek said, noting that the owners owe approximately $11,000 in Johnson and Linn Counties.

Tuesday’s denial comes after recent liquor-license denials by the council over the past several years.

In recent years, the council has opted to deny liquor-license renewals for the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., and Carl and Ernie’s Good Time Pub and Grub, 161 Highway 1 W.

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