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Marigold's molehill

Restaurant gets crossways with city liquor board



At Marigold Café and Bakery, a bad night of boozin' probably amounts to going a little overboard on the chardonnay, then eating one too many of Elaine Chavanon's eclairs.

So it's surprising to hear the successful French outfit on Centennial Boulevard, which has been serving loyal clientele a proper escargot for 18 years, has suddenly found itself in trouble with the Colorado Springs Liquor and Beer Licensing Board.

Neither Elaine, the pastry master, nor her husband, Chef Dominique Chavanon, will talk about the predicament; they feel perhaps they've said too much to well-placed friends already. But the story can be pieced together through other accounts and a trail of e-mails and letters.

The trouble apparently began when the Chavanons decided it was time to replace cabinetry and perform other aesthetic upgrades to their restaurant's bar. They hired an architect and Bryan Construction Inc.

About two months into the project, two investigators with the state's Department of Revenue stopped by and said they'd received an anonymous complaint about the work. The Chavanons would have to halt construction immediately, they said, because they did not have the proper "modification permit" from the city's liquor board.

"Before any modifications can occur on a liquor-licensed establishment, they have to apply for a liquor license modification permit — that is in the state law," City Clerk Kathryn Young explains. "And it is the liquor license holder's responsibility to know the state law."

Actually, the Chavanons were aware, but, according to a letter Elaine sent to the city, they were told by their architect and construction company the permit was unnecessary because the work was largely cosmetic.

In an e-mail to city officials, Scott Bryan, President and CEO of Bryan Construction, writes, "In my years in this construction business and the vast amount of projects we have completed I have not heard of a Modification Permit that would need to be obtained from the liquor board for a small renovation."

Actually, state law does suggest permits are required only for larger projects, but nevertheless, the city believes the permit was required.

The restaurateurs realized the permitting process could take two months (and involve notifying the neighborhood), with construction frozen. Plus they'd face possible penalties for not getting the permit.

Upset, Elaine tried contacting the city clerk's office about shortening the process, then confided in friends including 2011 mayoral candidate Tim Leigh, which backfired. Trying to help, Leigh sent an e-mail to several City Councilors and business leaders, mistakenly quoting Young as telling Elaine to "'suck it up; go through the process and eventually' she would get her permitting."

The letter apparently found its way to Young, and Elaine ended up sending a letter of apology. But the attempt at patching things up may not have been successful. Reached by phone, Young was, at best, curt when asked about Marigold's case.

Local attorney Vincent L. Linden III, who is familiar with liquor law, says Young has authority to approve the permit, saving the Chavanons time. But Young made it clear she will not; the matter will therefore have to slog through the liquor board.

Young also refused to search her files for similar cases, saying she did not have the time or staff to provide the public records, though she'd allow access to more than 800 files if the Indy cared to sort them.

Asked if Marigold may be penalized by the liquor board — perhaps leading to suspension or revocation of its license — she said the liquor board could do "anything" it wanted.

Linden, by the way, says it's unlikely Marigold would lose its license over the incident, and if the license were revoked, Marigold could probably win it back on appeal. But an appeal can take six to 12 months, he says.

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