An oversight by the Town of Amherst allowed a local restaurateur with no valid liquor license to sell beer and wine at the Audubon Golf Course and the Northtown Center for years, exposing the town to serious legal liabilities. It wasn’t until a complaint was made to the New York State Liquor Authority over the summer that the town was alerted to the problem and shut down both operations.
As a result, Amherst golfers and skaters were left with no hot food options for the past few months as the town scrambled to find another vendor to take over the Skybox Grille restaurant at the Northtown Center and tournament catering at the Audubon Golf Course. The Skybox Grille just recently reopened under new management.
“The second we found out, we took action,” said Youth and Recreation Director Mary Diana Pouli.
Thomas W. Davis, operator of the Audubon Grill and Cafe at the Audubon Golf Course, expanded his business into the Northtown Center, and at one point had valid liquor licenses at both locations.
But Davis’ license to serve alcohol at the golf course expired in 2005, according to the State Liquor Authority. Despite this, Davis continued to serve beer and wine at the golf course and catered tournament events there through this summer.
Ignorant of the licensing lapse, the town also awarded Davis a contract to operate the Skybox Grille restaurant at the Northtown Center, formerly the Pepsi Center, in December 2010 after a competitive bidding process.
Though Davis had received a temporary liquor license for that location, it expired in April 2011. The Liquor Authority refused to issue Davis a new license because his permanent license application failed to address dozens of paperwork deficiencies.
That included a line in which he stated he had no previous criminal convictions, even though the Department of Criminal Justice Services said he had a conviction record stemming from a Florida arrest in 1990.
Deputy Supervisor Guy Marlette, liaison to the town’s golf and recreation committees, said he was alarmed when he received a call from the town attorney about the lack of licensing and put the question to Davis directly.
“I said, ‘It’s a simple yes or no. Do you have one or do you not have one?’ ” he recalled. “He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s it.’ ”
Food operations at the golf course and Northtown Center were shut down that day, he said.
But he and other town officials conceded that the town would have been left open to serious legal liabilities had patrons of either the golf course or Northtown Center concessions been involved in alcohol-related accidents or injuries while Davis illegally served drinks. “It clearly shows that we have a flawed process of ensuring that, in multiyear contracts, all the paperwork is in place and continues to be valid,” Marlette said.
Pouli said the licensing issue likely fell through the cracks because of administration transitions in the Purchasing Department as well as the Recreation Department in 2010. Liquor license checks will now be conducted annually, she said.
“I guarantee you, we will not be in this position again,” she said.
Pouli also said she spoke at length with Davis, who has been hospitalized with serious health issues. Davis was generous, well-liked, and very good with customers, she said, but clearly got in over his head. “He was very apologetic,” she said. “It was just a sad situation all the way around.”
Davis agreed to have the remaining three years of his Skybox Grille contract assigned to another vendor, Michael Militello, who operates the Bijou Grille in Buffalo and Sonoma Grille in Amherst, Pouli said. Militello also agreed to take over the catering of remaining events at the Audubon Golf Course through the end of the golf season and has a valid liquor license for all locations.
Food vendors at the Audubon Golf Course and the Northtown Center pay the town monthly rent and a portion of soft drink sales, Pouli said. The town will be issuing a new request for proposals from prospective food vendors for the Audubon Golf Course next year, she said.