Several restaurant owners were frustrated after the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control failed to make scheduled deliveries just before Christmas.
“The week of Christmas, we did not get a delivery that week,” Brian Vasile, owner of Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda, said Monday. “On Christmas weekend, we ran out of nearly everything. Some of the items we could run to a DLC retail store to get, but some we could not, like kegs.”
Vasile said his restaurant did not receive the order of beer kegs it was expecting Christmas week until New Year’s Eve.
“On Thursday, they showed up with all the kegs we were expecting them to deliver Christmas week, dropped them off and left,” Vasile said. “So now we have an overabundance of product.”
Vasile said the DLC error, which the department apologized for in a letter to its customers on Dec. 30, cost him time and stress. The error was caused when a DLC employee consolidated five different delivery schedule files into one file on Dec. 22, resulting in missed deliveries on Dec. 23, 24, 28 and 29, according to the apology letter, which was signed by DLC director George Griffin.
“It’s more of the same,” Vasile, who has publicly supported recent efforts to end the county’s alcohol monopoly, said. “The apology letter is not sufficient.”
It wasn’t just Vasile who was left struggling to figure out how to keep his customers pleased without an alcohol order before the holidays. Other restaurant owners said they had similar problems.
Moises Cruz, general manager at Olazzo in Bethesda, said in an email the restaurant attempted to head off any DLC issues by ordering well before the week of Christmas, which he says is one of the restaurant’s busiest weeks of the year. He said despite the efforts, Olazzo did not receive its order early and the delivery before Christmas Eve was incomplete. The following week, the order for New Year’s Eve that was delivered was short eight cases of wine.
“For the record, we don’t expect anyone to be perfect, but it’s been a 50-50 chance as to receiving what we order,” Cruz said.
Frank Shull, a partner in the Robert Wiedmaier Restaurant Group, which operates local restaurants including Mussel Bar and Grille, Wildwood Kitchen and Villain & Saint in Bethesda and The Tavern at River Falls in Potomac, said holiday deliveries at the group’s restaurants were incorrect. He said in an email there were also billing errors that the restaurants’ staff is now trying to correct.
Michael Jones, the operating partner at American Tap Room in Bethesda, wrote in a comment on Bethesda Beat his restaurant did not have kegs for its craft beer program during the holidays.
“Holiday parties were not pleased at all with our lack of inventory for their events,” Jones wrote. “I’m so sick and tired of hearing George Griffin make superficial apologies as if they are some form of remedy to the problem.”
Jones, Shull and Roberto Pietrobono, co-owner of the Olazzo as well as Gringos and Mariachis restaurants, have publicly supported ending the county’s alcohol monopoly.
In the apology letter, the DLC wrote that the orders missed on the days before Christmas would be fulfilled before New Year’s Eve. Griffin said in an email Monday that all deliveries to DLC customers were made by Dec. 31. He did not respond to an emailed question about how many of the DLC’s customers were affected by the error.
The mishap comes as the DLC is dealing with intense scrutiny as it faces the possibility that its monopoly on the wholesale distribution of all alcohol and the retail sale of all liquor in the county could end. State Del. Bill Frick (D–District 16, Bethesda) is pursuing legislation in this year’s General Assembly that would call for a referendum to allow voters to decide if the county should keep its alcohol monopoly.
County officials, including eight of nine County Council members and County Executive Ike Leggett, have been speaking out in support of the DLC’s monopoly. The department generates more than $30 million in profits each year for the county, the loss of which could significantly impact the county’s budget, the officials have said.
The holiday delivery problems weren’t as bad for other restaurant owners, however. Alan Pohoryles, owner of Tommy’s Joe’s in Bethesda, said the bar’s delivery for New Year’s Eve was complete, but didn’t come until after 5 p.m. Dec. 30, when the bar was busy, which created issues because some employees had to inventory the products rather than serve customers.
Ashish Alfred, who owns 4935 Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle, said his holiday order was complete because he did not rely on the DLC to deliver it.
“I removed any possible margin for error,” Alfred said. “I placed my order for pickup and went and got it myself.”