By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Foothills Focus Executive Editor
Harold’s Cave Creek Corral ceased dine-in service after owner Danny Piacquadio says the Arizona Department of Liquor told him to voluntarily close its dining room or face a 60-day summary suspension.
“To be honest, we have no idea,” Piacquadio said about the forced closure.
“The governor’s executive order clearly states all 6 and 7 licenses whose primary business is selling alcohol shall close. Thirty-five years ago, we added a kitchen that’s 20% of our building. It’s never been a bar. We primarily sell food.”
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%, so Harold’s is primarily a restaurant, not a bar, he said.
Piacquadio said he was caught off guard when the Arizona Department of Liquor forced Harold’s to close.
“I will challenge anyone to say Harold’s has not done it right from the start using CDC guidelines, the Maricopa County Health Department guidelines, the county and governor’s orders. We went above and beyond before we were closed down.”
Piacquadio removed the barstools and closed the restaurant at 9 p.m. He voluntarily stopped offering live entertainment and kept the dance floor clear since June 29. Instead, Piacquadio put tables on the dance floor.
“We also took the temperature of the staff when they came in,” he said. “We went above and beyond to be responsible.”
Now, Harold’s has had to furlough 90% of its staff and go back to offering takeout service only.
The Arizona Department of Liquor visited Harold’s at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 4—a 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 wasn’t issued a warning on July 4, but the inspector requested the restaurant’s sales record for that evening, that week, a month and a three-month period. Harold’s 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 Piacquadio and asked him to voluntarily close down. Piacquadio said he asked why, and the sergeant stated it could be perceived as a bar for people just sitting at the bar. He emphasized 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 July 8: Hours of operations changed so that the restaurant closed at 9 p.m. with last call at 8:30 p.m.
That’s when he removed the bar stools and mandated that there could be no sitting or standing at the bar. Alcohol would only be served to guests seated at a table or high-top with a food order. 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 returned to Harold’s Cave Creek Corral on 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 expired on Monday, July 27, and the suspension would not be lifted until September 11.
Despite all of 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, Piacquadio said.
Piacquadio donated 5,300 meals, between the Foothills Food Bank and the Cave Creek Unified School District.
“It’s very subjective for the liquor department to close us down,” he said. “Our primary business is selling food. There’s never been a year where we’ve been under 55%. It’s very disheartening when this happens.”
So far, Piacquadio has garnered support from Cave Creek Mayor Ernie Bunch, State Sen. Karen Fann, Rep. David Schweikert and Maricopa County Commissioner Steve Chucri, who serves as the president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association.
“They’re all taking up the cause for us,” Piacquadio said. “They know Harold’s is a big part of the community. Unfortunately, we are still closed.
“Cave Creek was targeted, and I don’t know why. There are Series 6 establishments (those who hold a Series 6 license) that sell more alcohol and have bars in restaurants that are still in operation. Why is it so selective and subjective?”