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Peoria City Council defers vote on liquor license for Highly Flavored relocation to Twin Towers Mall

Owners of the Highly Flavored restaurant are planning to reopen the business at the Twin Towers Mall in downtown Peoria after their previous location at the Landmark Recreation Center closed abruptly last month.
Joe Deacon
Owners of the Highly Flavored restaurant are planning to reopen the business at the Twin Towers Mall in downtown Peoria after their previous location at the Landmark Recreation Center closed abruptly last month.

A restaurant hoping to relocate to the Twin Towers Mall will have to wait at least two more weeks as it seeks liquor license for the premises.

Amid concerns raised by some residents and the police department over security, hours of operation and other issues, a split Peoria City Council voted Tuesday to defer a decision on the liquor application for Highly Flavored.

Jeremy and Cierra Sargent, the owner-operators of the restaurant, are seeking to reopen the business in the former Creve Coeur Club site at the mall after their previous location in the Landmark Recreation Center closed abruptly last month.

“This vote that you guys are passing down is bigger than me. This decision, to me, it’s about equal opportunity,” said Jeremy Sargent, who was provided an opportunity to address the horseshoe by council member Chuck Grayeb. The new Highly Flavored location would be located in Grayeb’s second district.

“I truly believe that everyone deserves a chance to do their best,” added Sargent.

Grayeb allowed Sargent to speak on the condition that others also have an opportunity to be heard on the matter.

“I don’t believe it belongs there. We don't need this madness. We're trying to improve the city, not tear it down,” said Shondell Walker. “I think that the police department is doing an outstanding job, but they will have more problems on their hands if Highly Flavored is allowed inside the Twin Towers.”

Harold Dawson was among those speaking in favor of the Sargents’ business proposal, calling himself a supportive patron of the prior site.

“I never witnessed anything uncanny or anything that was unruly while attending Highly Flavored,” said Dawson. “I've witnessed him (Jeremy Sargent) de-escalate situations. I've witnessed him be very upstanding into decisions being made within his establishment while still running the business.”

Council member Bernice Gordon-Young moved to have the issue deferred until the July 9 meeting, to give the parties more time to address the concerns.

“I do want to make sure that we make a fair decision, but I want to make sure we are armed with accurate information,” said Gordon-Young.

She asked Sargent if he would be willing to open the business without the ability to serve alcohol until a later date.

“I think that's a loaded question, and I say that to say, ‘would I? You know, sure.’ But that would be a choice that I'm forced to make, opposed to being able to open – I'm willing to be compliant with the plan of operation, willing to be compliant with closing times,” said Sargent.

“So it would be discouragement, to answer your question, if I was denied. Would I want to continue operating the Twin Towers? Me, personally, I wouldn't. I would love it to be somewhere where I’m wanted.”

Earlier this month, the city liquor commission voted 3-0 to recommend approval of the liquor license application, on the condition of adopting a plan of operation that addressed various concerns.

In a letter to the commission, Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria pointed to “significant challenges that warrant concern,” particularly the mall access. The letter also pointed to 119 police calls to the Landmark site between October of last year and this May, the months Highly Flavored operated there.

However, Echevarria’s letter concluded that the police department’s concerns are “primarily operational and could potentially be mitigated by appropriate management, supervision, and control.”

Minutes of the liquor commission meeting show that liquor investigator Rick Linthicum confirmed the 119 police calls – for reports of fights, weapons and shots fired – were “not directly connected” to Highly Flavored, but to Landmark in general, because businesses there do not have separate addresses.

Landmark general manager Jason Lanzotti also submitted a letter to the liquor commission, alleging a history of “routinely late” payments, increased security incidents, poor service, broken equipment, and breach of their operating agreement. He wrote, “it would be negligent to award a track record like this with a liquor license at a new location.”

A letter from a law firm representing Jeremy Sargent to Lanzotti dated May 31 called the claims “false and untruthful,” and indicated intent to seek a cease-and-desist order.

Rob Hanauer, who owns a business in the Twin Towers, also addressed the council during the meeting and pointed to the increased police calls at Landmark during the time Highly Flavored was there.

“I'm not opposed to having the Highly Flavored restaurant or alcohol in our building,” said Hanauer. “But we need to be very careful about licensing good applicants.”

Operating as a private club with more than 200 members, The Creve Coeur Club had restricted operating hours. Concerns over Highly Flavored’s business plan suggested patrons would have unsupervised access to the mall late into the evening.

The Sargents were also seeking an 11 p.m. closing time, three hours later than what’s permitted in the lease. Jeremy Sargent said they are in discussions with the landlord about an allowance to stay open until the later hour.

Other requirements of an operating plan would include addressing security concerns and after-hours mall access, limiting excessive noise, and other use restrictions to make sure the business operates as a restaurant and not a nightclub.

The vote to defer came down at 8-3, with Zach Oyler and Denis Cyr joining Grayeb in voting against delaying the process.

“I'm a politician; I don't like to say no to anybody,” said Grayeb. “But I'm not going to say yes to something that I believe is injurious to the people in this district and in this building across the street and in our city.”

Other liquor license action

The city council also unanimously agreed to defer a vote on the denial of a liquor license for Empire Lounge at 3033 N. Sterling. Council member Denise Jackson pulled the item from the consent agenda to request the deferral until the July 23 meeting.

The liquor commission had recommended denying the application, following two previous denials for the site.

Among the reasoning for the recommendation to deny, the liquor commission pointed to a police department compliance check on Jan. 6, where diners were found inside the building and beer, wine and hard liquor was observed on the premises – despite this business being unlicensed and not having a valid certificate of occupancy.

Additionally, opposition from the Wardcliffe Neighborhood Association and the Forrest Hill Homeowners Association swayed the liquor commission’s decision.

“It was discussed at the May meeting of the Wardcliffe Neighborhood Association to have its next meeting at the Empire Lounge. There were some folks who were absent, and many folks had expressed the fact that they had not had an opportunity to vote. So that decision was made unanimously,” said Jackson in requesting the deferral.

In a separate consent agenda action, the council approved a liquor license with allowance for a sidewalk café for Reservations, a new restaurant set to open at the former Spotted Cow location at 718 W. Glen Ave.

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.