Cuban Pete’s Fights Back

11_1_1The saga of what was in the Sangria at Cuban Pete’s  continues. Two weeks ago, we broke the story of owner Dominick Restaino’s arrest for selling alcohol without a license.

And based on a report in yesterday’s  Montclair Times, the story is still as murky as a pitcher of Sangria.  Telling his side, Restaino says that he thought boiling the alcohol content from the wine used to make his now famous beverage, would let him get around the requirement for a license.

I was getting these big pots, he said. And I would dump all the cooking wine in and turn it up with a lid on until it boiled.  The ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) came in and said I wasn’t cooking it long enough.

But Montclair Chief of Police David Sabagh said he wasn’t boiling anything down, and the Sangria  samples taken from the restaurant were "all above the legal limit".

So the ABC and the Montclair Police came in and did a clean sweep of 30 barrels of wine, and  all the wine cooking paraphernalia in the restaurant.

"The ABC doesn’t arrest you. They get the Montclair
Police to do it. They took things out of here in little plastic bags
like I murdered somebody," Restaino said.

Restaino told the Times he has purchased a new 55 gallon copper vat — complete with a built in alcohol level gauage —  which he plans to fire up next week.  But we want to know, are you going to buy a pitcher of Sangria if you know you’re not gonna get a buzz?

Restaino says he’s determined to win the Sangria battle when he presents his defense to
the Montclair Municipal Court on March 23.

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67 COMMENTS

  1. What does it mean if the wine is boiled down per ABC requirements? Is it still wine or just some altered form that Cuban Pete’s can call wine just to please the customers? Is there any point in having it in the Sangria at that point?

  2. This seems like such a non-controversy to me. The alcohol requirements are clear and the restaurateur was even warned, no?
    “Restaino says that he thought boiling the alcohol content from the wine used to make his now famous beverage, would let him get around the requirement for a license.”
    Well, think harder. You run a restaurant, you’re supposed to “know”.
    Can you imagine saying “I *think* storing mayonnaise at 45 degrees will inhibit bacteria, I *think*.”

  3. Boiling temperatures. Big pots. Barrels of wine. A 55 gallon copper vat. Ignorance both of the laws of physics and NJ’s liquor laws. Really, now. I ran this one briefly by a friend who used to be an ATF agent, and he says he’s heard more convincing sob stories from convicted bootleggers.
    But walleroo, we are not talking two dollars. It may be time to say farewell forever to Cuban Pete’s.

  4. There are trace amounts of alcohol in a lot of things, including over-the-counter cough syrups and cold remedies. As if “alcohol” were such a dirty word … do alarmists need to hire a personal scientist to measure the alcohol content in all of their consumables to assure them that they won’t get drunk or fall off the wagon?!

  5. Bringing your own bottle is much better anyway and if you want fruit added to it for some reason, the restaurant can add a fruit mix to it. The food is good, the restaurant should survive!

  6. p.s. Since BYOB is allowed at the restaurant. Can I ask an obvious question?
    Why not make various non-alcoholic Sangria “mixes” (without the wine) and serve those. People can bring their own wine and spike their own Sangria.
    (perhaps this is not allowed)

  7. Jim, alchoholics have been known to drink cough syrup when looking for a fix and the alcohol count is listed on the label.
    In my lab we have to account for lab alcohol use to make sure none is syphoned off (tax free) for drinking.
    It is a regulated ingredient and Cuban Pete’s should have known they’d be caught if they didn’t abide by the law.
    Flimsy excuse, he’ll lose.

  8. Does anyone know how much a liquor license costs for restaurants? Maybe its time to reduce the fee or eliminate. Maybe this hold over from prohibition should be put down.

  9. I’m with you, Sandie.
    If he’s done wrong (based on the current law), then yes, he should be punished/fined. But, I don’t think the man deserves to lose his business over this.
    I’ve said it before but I just wish that liquor licenses in Montclair were more affordable so that the average Joe, Pete, or Dominick could afford them instead of just a select few restaurant owners. There’s something very unfair about that, I think.

  10. laser,
    I don’t know the cost in Montclair, but I’m guessing like $300K.
    So restaurants finances those purchases and resell them like mortgaged homes.
    You can’t just “lower the cost” because it wouldn’t be fair to people who made those large investiments.

  11. Why not make various non-alcoholic Sangria “mixes” (without the wine) and serve those. People can bring their own wine and spike their own Sangria.
    Yes, but ROC, there’s no money in that!

  12. People seem to be overlooking that there seems to be, as the matter is reported here (I have to stress that one), a high degree of calculation on the part of Mr. Restaino to drive way, wayyyy around NJ’s liquor licensing regulations. Again, as reported, he seems no innocent, or perhaps someone so uninformed he really shouldn’t be in the restaurant business at all.
    Other restaurants pay good money for their licenses in the expectation they’ll help their businesses. Rightly or wrongly, NJ towns have a limited number of licenses available based on a legal formula. Someone who attempts to get around this is trying to screw the competition, to ignore how in some towns even mom ‘n’ pop pizzerias have scrimped and saved for their licenses. No matter how much anyone likes the food or the proprietor at Cuban Pete’s, this sounds like a very serious matter.

  13. ROC,
    You can’t keep pushing a stupid fee because everyone else had to pay it. There are remedies to deal with those that paid the fee too. Where is that libertarian drive that I come to know?
    Cathar, its not that serious. What is serious is the fee itself.

  14. Does anyone know the difference in a liquor store license and a restaurant liquore license? Obviously one is packaged and one is sit and drink, but I’m asking about the cost and availability.
    Maybe some of the byob places should get together and open their own liquor store to profit from the byob status.
    Personally, I prefer byob places. My group of friends runs the income spectrum from trust fund kid to starving artist and byob places make a night out more affordable to the entire group. Also, we have some serious wineheads and byob lets them bring in their latest discovery.

  15. “You can’t keep pushing a stupid fee because everyone else had to pay it. ”
    Huh? Have you seen the income tax code lately?
    It’s more a matter of (to use a phrase) Economic Justice.
    Imagine you own a restaurant and borrowed $400k for a liquor licence. Then along comes lasermike026 who changes the cost of the licences to $28.50.
    Now you get to keep paying on the loan for 30 years and in the end you’ll have nothing to show for it.
    You seem pretty wet behind the ears, laser.

  16. I like both actually but it IS kind of refreshing to be able to go out to the restaurant of your choice and order a mixed drink (such as a mojito or a Bloody Mary) once in awhile. You don’t have these BYOB issues in AC or NYC.

  17. It is that serious, lasermike. And it certainly is even more so if you own a licensed premise in Montclair. Ask the folks at Egan’s, at Richie Cecere’s, who paid good coin for their licenses and probaby work very hard to obey ABC regulations; I doubt very much they appreciate another restaurant serving alcohol wiithout a license given their own efforts. Since I’m trying very hard not to dismiss Mr. Restaino as merely the village idiot, my own personal belief about this matter shifts to him being, well, a very shifty sort of restaurant owner. Not one I’d patronize.

  18. Blue Water Grill did just that, hrhppg. They had a “wine store” next to the restaurant, but they had to keep the pretence that they were two separate businesses. When you ordered your food, you’d get up from your table, walk through a closet that connected the two establishments (you had to brush past a few token hangers and coats) and buy your bottle of wine. It was all right — they had some nice wines at fairly reasonable prices.

  19. It would be nice if the USA was like Italy and only loosely regulated wine and beer, and drinking wine could be part of our culture and all without harsh regulations and enforcement and so forth. But we may as well wish we were Eskimos.

  20. I have noted this before, perhaps hrhppg didn’t see it: liquor licenses by law, both those allowing for on and off-premises consumption, are limited, via a not-too-complicated formula with population as its key element. But there is also “grandfathering” of licenses in existence at the time of such legislation, which is why places that were much livelier than Montclair at the time of the passing of the legislation have subsequently benefited.
    I have no idea what hrhppg’s suggestion that byob places combine to buy a liquor store “to benefit from the byob status” means, however. It sounds like she’s urging a way to illegally circumnavigate round ABC regulations, but it may also be that her prose is simply muddled. In any case, it is restaurants that are usually byob, not clubs (what club would be nutty enough to cut off its main source of revenue?), and we, meaning diners, usually thus benefit. There is quite a bit of sense to NJ’s liquor laws, though we might debate the population formula aspect and why it freezes the number of available licenses.

  21. It would be even nicer in many eyes, walleroo, if the US were more like Italy in the issue of paying taxes, since reasonable estimates of how many Italians avoid paying taxes range from 35 to even 55% of the Italian population.
    But we are not Italy, so go back to stripping your harp seal of its pelt and meat. We also don’t have the problem of child alcoholism that both France and Italy have, which starts with the tykes sipping wine with their parents. And as for beer, name me a great, or even pretty good French or Italian one. No such thing.

  22. The “wrongness” of a $300,000 liquor license is the same as the “wrongness” of a $650,000 fixer-upper in Upper Montclair: those that have the means afford it, those that don’t complain about the prices.

  23. Is there really a childhood alcoholism problem in France and Italy? I always thought that alcoholism rates were lower in those countries than, say, the norther ones, like Britain, where alcohol consumption is tightly regulated and hooligans tank up at last call ahead of the pub’s closing at 11 pm.

  24. I take your point about the beer. Maybe harsh regulations does somethign in the brewing process. Who knows?

  25. ok, Jim.
    And the “just” soultion would be? ….
    Forcing the owner of the $650K house to sell for $200k?

  26. Hey, with more people cramming into Montclair in the high density building lots more restaurants will be able to buy liquor licenses. See, it is all working out in the end – higher tax revenue all around.

  27. The pubs may now stay open 24 hours a day in the UK, walleroo. Let the lager louts fall where they may.
    Child alcoholism is specifically an issue in “Mediterranean” countries. Not so much in what you (in tribute to your Viking forebears?) term “norther ones,” where “mere” alcoholism remains a critical issue.

  28. Peroni beer? An Australian tennis pro I was standing next to at a reception in Newport, RI was offered a bottle. He dismissed it as “tommy-cat pisswater,” settled for a Heineken instead. That says it all.
    And Max, pay attention: unless the state legislature acts to change the formula laws, there are no more liquor licenses to be had in Montclair or any other of NJ’s towns. No matter how many new stores come to town. And there is much opposition in many NJ towns to ever changing those laws.

  29. There is no pragmatic solution because the value of liquor licenses and real estate is determined by what the market is willing to pay for them, and as long as applicants keep paying, the values will continue to rise. There is also some degree of economic insulation here in this NYC metro area from the national trends (i.e. reduction of real estate values, shift to buyer’s market) so long as salaries and capital gains keep rising.

  30. Dough! Yes, Blue Water Grill is (or was) off Union Square — I always get those two mixed up. Thanks!
    What happened to Blue Sky? Did it go the way of all things?

  31. Thank you for the Blue Sky reference. I knew a place in town had done the 2 business thing, but I didn’t remember the name.

  32. “Peroni beer? An Australian tennis pro I was standing next to at a reception in Newport, RI was offered a bottle. He dismissed it as “tommy-cat pisswater,” settled for a Heineken instead. That says it all.”
    That’s an incredibly authoritative product review. What else did you learn from this expert-of-all-things and how else did he change your life?

  33. I’ve had the stuff myself, Jim. And while I wouldn’t, after passing on it, move instead to a Heineken, yes, it’s about as refreshing as day-old dishwater. Italian restaurants here sometimes carry it probably because it’s an Italian beer, not because it’s a good-tasting one.
    One other thing I did learn from this Aussie, name of Fred Stolle (he once won the US Open), was how I’d never be able to handle anything with topspin hit to my backhand unless I changed my grip before hitting back. I’m still working on that one, but life goes on. Now stop your attempt at sneering.

  34. Sorry Jim, the pro is right. Peroni is terrible. I’d compare it to michelob. People who live good and easy lives just don’t make good beer.
    Even when ordered in Italy, one gets the impression from the waiter that they are thinking:
    “you came all this way to drink that?”

  35. Cathar, pay attention. Someone said that it was a calculation of liquor licenses per capata – increase the number of heads enough and you get another license by that formula.

  36. Max, respectfully, you pay attention. You’d have to have thousands of new residents (I forget the exact number)to qualify for one new on and one new off-premises license apiece. An apartment building or two doesn’t cut it. Thirst isn’t the issue here (even re what surely will be the “educated palates” of new residents of the Siena), it’s real numbers of people. This is is what helps push the value of existing liquor licenses up, after all, the prospect of servicing new thirsts.

  37. Laser,
    Here’s a translation for you:
    wet_behind_the_ears
    A adjective
    1 raw, new, wet behind the ears(p)
    lacking training or experience; “the new men were eager to fight”; “raw recruits”; “he was still wet behind the ears when he shipped as a hand on a merchant vessel”
    wet_behind_the_ears definition

  38. “tommy-cat pisswater”
    “What else did you learn from this expert-of-all-things and how else did he change your life?”
    This is what I love about this place. You don’t find language like that on the W.C. Thank you, Jim, and thank you, cathar.
    PS Peroni is awful. Paatooooey!

  39. cathar,
    I still hit both sides with the continental grip…never could get the idea of changing to a backhand grip. I still like the backhand slice down the line. Loved Fred Stolle…those Aussies from the 60s made tennis a fun game to watch….laver, rosewall, emerson, roche and my boyhood idol, John Newcombe. He had style.

  40. It was a joke cathar, the kind of joke that takes two complaints and combines them to make an opposite. Think about it. Cram Montclair full of more people and you get a new venue for overpriced drinking – sweet huh.

  41. Blue Sky Cafe is no more, sadly. It was replaced by Sesame Restaurant, a nice Chinese eat-in place. Just had dinner there last night – lovely atmosphere, great service, yummy food.
    AND they still have the same deal – a little wine shoppe literally next door where you can buy some vino for your meal.
    There’s a restaurant in Rutherford that does the same exact thing, it’s so odd!

  42. The state has regulations on the number of licenses a town should issue. One “C” license per 3500 residents. One “D” license per 10,000 residents.
    There are about 7 -8 different types of licenses but the two most common make up about 90% of what is issued in NJ.
    “C” is an on-premise license or restaurant.
    “D” license is an off-premise or package store.
    The 3rd most common is a “Broad C”. With this type of license you can be a restaurant and package store or both.
    There are many package stores in NJ that operate with “C” license. They are easy to spot because they cannot have floor displays unless they are against a permanent wall and they are supposed to have a bar somewhere with 10 stools.
    There is a whole chain in NJ called Spirits Unlimited that are mostly “C” licenses…
    The value to a license varies. It is a matter of supply and demand and they are sold for whatever the market rate is in a particular town. Most of the time it is based on the past history or volume. If you are buying a license that does 500K per year in business it might sell for 100 – 200K. If it does 5 million you will pay several million for it.
    “C” licenses are usually cheaper then “D”‘s.
    I have seen “C” licenses sell for low of 10K and as high as 5 million.
    I have seen “D”‘s go for 50K to 10 million.
    Also, violations go with a license forever. If a store gets busted for serving to minors the license is devalued some.
    Also, although you may buy a license all you are really doing is buying the right to use it. It belongs to the state and they can take it from you without compensating you at all if you violate the rules.
    Restaurants with liquor licenses also pay a higher insurance premium.
    Cuban Pete NEEDS to go to jail.

  43. BigBob, the parents of friends in a few instances had “C” and “D” licenses. In hoth cases, since the children didn’t want to run either a restaurant or a package store, the license constituted the parents’ “retirement fund.” As licenses still do in so many cases. Still, a “C” for only ten thou? The gossip in my old home town of ER, when the Meadowlands track was at its most profitable, was that a license was going for a million. Those were the days, I guess.
    I appreciate your clarification re the licenses. I also suspect, since I’ve tried to offer some of this info before myself (more than once, and now they’ll also start counting the population of Montclair and asking why there are so many licenses already then despite that I’ve already tried to explain “grandfathering” to them….), that other posters will simply ignore it. As they ignore what seem to be the real issues re Cuban Pete’s.
    Still, you have my sincere thanks.

  44. 10k for a license is going to be only found in a severly depress area that already has too many licenses (grandfathered town) and you really don’t have anywhere good to move the license too.
    Manym many people have been running shops for years and yes the license is their nest egg.
    I would say over the years and average “C” sold for 250 – 300K and 500K for a “D”.
    This is the reason no new licenses should be issued. You ruin the value of the existing ones…

  45. BigBob, my recollection is the state limits the issuance of C and D licenses by the population size of the town.
    Like 1 C for every 5,000 people, and one D for every 7,000 people. Adustments for private clubs, VFWs, etc. If you served alcohol prior to 1947, you got an honorary license, which accounts for the 1 license per 20 person ratio in Harrison and Hoboken.
    Montclair doesn’t have licenses available for issue. If you want one, you have to buy it from a holder. Amanti Vino bought the license used at Whole Foods, for example.

  46. You all have no clue what a liquor licence is worth. A licence in any town is worth what the establishment doing business with the licence is worth. A pocket licence is a licence which has no selling address, say you closed down, the licence you can sell to someone who has a location where liquor can be sold in the town where the licence was issued. Then that licence can be sold to that person. Its not worth what you think. A licence brings big bucks when the business is doing big bucks.

  47. one more thing, Dominick is laughing to the bank because you a-hole’s are giving him great advertising talking about Cuban Pete’s. 3rd world cheap food that alpo can sell. Remember he sold Mexicali Rose for $1.2 million than opened up the street and has distroyed the poor sap that own’s Mexicali. Verbally and threw this web site. Why would you even go to pete’s.

  48. PaulFrom QB
    See my post above for the population limits.
    I am well aware of the fact you have to buy an existing license unless of course you are a very larege corporation like Zanadu or Mountain Creek and did not want to pay for local liceneses and the state is granting them special licenses.

  49. the but-i-thought-i-had-cooked-out-all-the-alcohol alibi reminds of clinton’s i-didn’t-inhale quip, though not nearly as clever.

  50. It’s called ‘restaurants I wouldn’t eat in unless I was accompanied by a health food inspector’.
    Brilliant

  51. I see the Nitwit Nick Twits are on their lunch break.
    a health food inspector?
    why would you want to take a health food inspector with you to a restaurant? Are you in politics?

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