COVID-19 STORIES: Why Did the Arizona Department of Liquor Force Harold’s Cave Creek Corral to Cease Dine-In Service?

by Danny Piacquadio

As co-owners of Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, that’s the question that my colleagues, Bill and Marie Vale, and I want to know. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and Arizona in March, our iconic, 84-year-old western restaurant and bar has been overly compliant with all guidelines of the CDC, ADHS, the Arizona Department of Liquor, as well as all state and local mandates.

Well-known in the North Valley as a community business leader, Harold’s followed all rules to protect the health and safety of its employees and patrons.

  • Harold’s Cave Creek Corral has held a Series 6 liquor license over the last 35 years of business, but total food sales average 55 to 60 percent , so Harold’s is primarily a restaurant, not a bar.
  • The Arizona Department of Liquor visited Harold’s on Saturday, July 4 at 10:30 p.m. (one-half-hour before closing) and did a full inspection.
    • The inspector observed the bar area had 15 people, and a portion of them had food.
    • Upon inspecting the kitchen, the agent observed a cook preparing additional menu items.
    • The inspector stated that Harold’s was following social distancing rules, was serving food to patrons, and all staff were wearing masks. In addition, he noticed that there was no live music and that tables were on the dance floor.
  • Harold’s was never issued a warning on July 4, but the inspector requested the restaurant’s sales record for that evening, that week, a month, and a 3-month period. We provided all the information to them the following day (Sunday, July 5). All reports showed that the majority of sales were food items.
  • On Tuesday, July 7, a sergeant from the Arizona Department of Liquor called me and asked us to voluntarily close down. When I inquired why, the sergeant stated it could be perceived as a bar for people just sitting at the bar. I emphasized that Harold’s would take additional steps so that by no means the restaurant could “look like a bar.” Harold’s made more changes to its operations effective Wednesday, July 8:
    • Hours of operations changed so that the restaurant closed at 9 p.m. with last call at 8:30 p.m.
    • Harold’s took away the bar stools and mandated that there could be no sitting or standing at the bar.
    • Alcohol would be served only to guests seated at a table or high-top with an order of food.
    • Tables were placed on the dance floor to further allow for social distancing.
    • Harold’s canceled its live bands and shut down its game room.
  • The Arizona Department of Liquor came back to Harold’s Cave Creek Corral on Friday, July 10, with the request to voluntarily close its dining room or face a summary suspension for 60 days, which would mean Harold’s would not be able to open when the State’s Executive Order for bars was set to expire on Monday, July 27, and the suspension would not be lifted until September 11. In effect, Harold’s was being forced to close its dining room to the public.

Despite all the changes Harold’s made, there was no reason given for the request other than Harold’s holds a Series 6 liquor license and that a complaint had been received.

Now, Harold’s has had to furlough 90 percent of its staff and go back to offering take-out service only.

We at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral understand that coronavirus cases are spiking in Arizona. But our team feels that Harold’s was targeted unfairly by the Arizona Department of Liquor, especially since chain restaurants with bars are not being targeted nor are establishments with Series 12 liquor licenses. We also believe we have complied with the executive order by Governor Ducey 2020-43 3A.

Harold’s has also gone above and beyond to help its community during the global pandemic. Since March, Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, with support of Desert Forest Golf Club members and the Kiwanis Club of Carefree, has donated more than 5,200 meals to the Foothills Food Bank and the Cave Creek Unified School District (CCUSD).

Danny Piacquadio is co-owner of Harold’s Cave Creek Corral. This story is the sole opinion by Mr. Piacquadio and was not written by In Business Magazine or its staff.

The contents of this article are the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the author.

Maricopa Series 12 liquor license: This is a full liquor license that allows the licensee to sell beer, wine and spirits for consumption on the premise of a restaurant that sells more than 40 percent of its revenue in food. With the Series 12 liquor license, customers are not allowed to purchase items for carry out.

Maricopa Series 6 – Bar: This license allows owners to sell beer, wine and spirits (like tequila, rum, vodka and gin) to their customers for consumption on premises without any requirement to serve food. The license also allows for the sale of beer and wine in a package and for delivery of beer and wine. (Harold’s has always had a Series 6 license.)

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