Liquor License Violation Forces Bethesda’s Ruth’s Chris Restaurant To Close for Two Weeks

Liquor License Violation Forces Bethesda’s Ruth’s Chris Restaurant To Close for Two Weeks

Citation is third in six years for steakhouse, county license authorities say

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The Bethesda Ruth's Chris Steak House website notes the temporary closure as of Thursday.

Via Ruth's Chris Steak House

Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Bethesda has been shut down for two weeks by Montgomery County’s liquor license authorities.

The restaurant was cited after it served a beer to a 19-year-old more than a year ago, its third liquor-control violation in the past six years, according to the county’s Department of Liquor Control Licensure Office.

After appealing the matter in Circuit Court, which delayed a proposed suspension of the liquor license last summer, the restaurant dropped its appeal and agreed to close from Jan. 22 until Feb. 5, according to county licensure manager Jocelyn Rawat and documents in the case.

In addition to the license suspension, all front-of-the-house staff members and the three license holders are being required to take a course on liquor law compliance.

The restaurant’s website on Thursday notes a “temporary closure” through Feb. 4.

At a hearing with the county’s Board of License Commissioners, the restaurant admitted the violation and said two managers and a server were fired.

A spokesperson for the corporate office and a local attorney for the restaurant did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During some 400 annual “compliance checks” in the county, volunteers who are under Maryland’s legal drinking age of 21 and accompanied by a police officer and liquor inspector, try to buy alcohol.

Inspector Lee Williams testified that during an inspection on Jan. 4, 2018, he watched a Ruth’s Chris employee serve a Stella Artois draft beer to a 19-year-old volunteer without checking identification.

The third violation at the Bethesda company-owned restaurant triggered the suspension.

So-called service to minors violations are fairly common, but three-time offenders and the subsequent hearings are somewhat rare, Rawat said. There were six show-cause cases from May 2017 through April 2018, resulting in four fines, one license suspension and one revocation.

During hearings in the case, licensees Arne Haak, Barbara Hurwitz and Michael O’Donnell admitted the violation.

O’Donnell, chairman and CEO of the chain, testified that the restaurant was doubling down on efforts to stop sales to minors and the server, the floor manager and the general manager were all terminated.

O’Donnell also said that Ruth’s Chris has 155 locations around the world, 77 operated by the company, and none of the U.S. properties had violations in the past year, and the Gaithersburg restaurant hasn’t had one during its four years in business.

The first violation at the Bethesda location was in February 2009, followed by offenses in March 2013 and May 2016. The January 2018 violation fell within six years of the latter two, leading to the hearing.

The first liquor control violation typically brings a $1,000 fine, Rawat said. The fine jumps to $2,500 for two-time offenders. Any violation requires supervisors to take a training class.

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