ABC officers pay surprise visits to restaurants to ensure COVID compliance

CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County Alcohol and Beverage Control officers visited numerous places Friday night to ensure compliance of orders related to COVID-19.

ABC officers, Alcohol Law Enforcement and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have visited around 250 alcohol-permitted establishments.

"We understand it is a strange time we are in, but we got to make sure to do our part as police officers to help corral this thing in, so we can get back to life as normal," ABC Officer Kemp England said. "These are not violent people. We're not going out and wrangling bad guys. We are trying to help people stay in compliance and stay open."

An example of a restaurant that is adapting and thriving is 1900 Mexican Grill

During a surprise visit, Mecklenburg County ABC officers saw the bar area was shut down and tables were spaced apart.

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“It was an adjustment obviously, very different from day-to-day operations we have been doing and used to for the last 15 years in Charlotte but nothing we couldn’t adapt to,” said Jose Garcia, 1900 Mexican Grill.

Officers also paid a visit to The Spoke Easy and Leroy Fox and saw no issues. In addition to the governor's orders, officers were checking to make sure no one was overserved or drinking underage.

They also want to make sure restaurants aren’t acting as bars.

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"If you are going to be open during this time, you need to operate like a restaurant," England said.

According to CMPD, 22 places have been served an ABC violation or citation. Places cited include White House, J&J Tavern, Pins Mechanical Company and 11 sweepstakes arcades.

England said he understands it can be jarring to drive by places that look crowded like Wooden Robot, which was their last stop with Eyewitness News for the night

"It sort of shocks your conscience when you know we have all of this going on and you ride by and 100 people sitting around together," he said. "I know that shocks your conscience."

But England said looks can be deceiving. Wooden Robot is at half capacity, and officers witnessed people staying at their tables and not mingling. The brewery was operating by the book.

"I would say 99% of people are willing to follow the rules," said TJ Banks of Wooden Robot.

England said that's the key to success during this pandemic

“We are not their adversary,” he said. “We are only here to make sure you do things in compliance and safely.”