The New York State Liquor Authority suspended the license of Hy Ting Restaurant on West Main Street in Riverhead in Wednesday, citing several fights in and outside the establishment as well as 20 violations of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control law, 36 health code violations and other fire and safety violations.
The SLA, in a press release, also cited Hy Ting for hiring a convicted felon and for making the license available to an individual not listed on it, which the SLA says are “serious violations of the ABC law.”
Specifically, it says that the restaurant was being managed by Hong Loo, “a convicted felon with a substantial criminal record, including one conviction for felony assault with a firearm.”
The SLA says that Mr. Loo, who is more commonly known as Kenny, represented himself to police as the licensee and owner of the restaurant, even though the SLA lists the licensee as being Maryanne Biagioni. Mr. Loo is listed on the bank account for the restaurant, and has signed checks for it, according to the SLA.
“They dug up my past,” Mr. Loo said in a phone interview Thursday.
The felony charge happened when he was 19 years old and living in Setauket, he said. He’s now 43.
“I got into a fight when somebody called me a racial slur,” he said. Later on that night, a group of about eight kids who were friends of the kids he had the fight with, showed up at his house at about 11:30 p.m. looking for him, he said. The group said if they couldn’t find him, they would hurt his 10-year-old brother.
“When I heard about that, I went a little berserk,” Mr. Loo said. He got a gun and went out looking for the group.
“Trust me, I was going to shoot somebody that night,” he said. “They crossed the line. You don’t come to my house and threaten my family. And this was a town where they burned a cross on a black family’s lawn just down the block from me.”
Mr. Loo said police pulled him over before he found the group, and found the gun in his car.
“By the grace of God, I got arrested,” he said.
The district attorney offered him a guilty please to the gun charge, which would have meant a mandatory one year in jail, or a guilty plea to the felony assault charge, which carried a sentence of five years’ probation. He took the latter.
“I turned my life around,” he said. “I came from a poor rural town in China that didn’t have running water or flushing toilets. My family and I have opened restaurants and built restaurants in the town. I’m no slacker. I’ve made something of my life.”
Mr. Loo also owns Main Street Heros and Haiku in downtown Riverhead. His family has owned Hy Ting since 1994.
As for the charge that he used a front for the business, Mr. Loo said that Maryanne Biagioni, the licensee, is his fiancée.
“We’ve been together for five years, we’ve lived together for two years and I live with her two children,” he said. “She works at Hy Ting everyday. We’re going to be married.”
As for some of the other violations Hy Ting was cited for, Mr. Loo says many of them were for things like having emergency lights out or having a fire extinguisher that’s not on a hook.
“You go to any business or restaurant and you’re going to find some kind of building violations,” he said.
The Riverhead Town Police Department made referrals to the SLA, which said Hy Ting had been the subject of an investigation since September 2017, when Hy Ting’s new liquor license became effective. Ms. Biagioni is listed on the licensee under the premise name of 54 Main USA Inc.
The restaurant had not been able to sell liquor since 2012 when the SLA canceled, and ultimately revoked its liquor license. At the time, Young L. Loo was listed as the licensee, under the name Lung Fong Restaurant Corp. The license was revoked because of an availing charge, which means the licensee was allowing another individual who was not listed on the license to use the license,” according to Jade Kraszewski, a public information specialist with the SLA.
The restaurant was restricted from holding any liquor license for at least two years.
Since September, “Police have received at least six 911 calls for disturbances in or directly outside the premises within the last four months; none of the calls were made by the owner, manager or an employee of the premises,” the SLA said.
The last incident occurred on March 16 when a fight broke out among several patrons, according to the SLA.
Riverhead police told the SLA that an argument began inside the restaurant and escalated into a fight in the parking lot. Once police arrived, none of the patrons cooperated with the police. When officers tried to speak to the owner, “the licensee locked the door, walked away and did not return or respond to repeated knocks and verbal requests by police,” the statement said.
“I panicked,” Mr. Loo said.
There was also a 911 call about an altercation on Feb. 24. A female patron told police she had been involved in a fight inside the restaurant, but also was not cooperative. “A police officer then entered the premises and was confronted by the bartender, who stated that the dispute was a domestic issue, not a fight, and that it didn’t happen inside the bar, contrary to what police were told earlier by the female patron,” the statement said.
Two other fights took place on Jan. 15 and Dec. 22, 2017, and two calls for altercations were made on Jan. 20, 2018 and Nov. 11, 2017.
An SLA inspection on March 19 yielded over 20 violations of the ABC Law, 36 health code violations and other fire and safety violations. The SLA charged Hy Ting Restaurant with 48 violations on March 22. There are also four pending charges against the restaurant that were filed Feb. 5.
“This establishment has continuously burdened the Riverhead Police Department’s resources in the brief six months that it has been open for business,” said Counsel to the Authority Christopher R. Riano. “The manager, who has a criminal record of violent offenses, should not be involved in the premises, let alone supervising this establishment.”
Vincent Bradley, the SLA board chairman, and Commissioner Greeley Ford ordered the suspension at a special meeting on Wednesday. The State Administrative Procedure Act authorizes a State agency to summarily suspend a license when the agency finds that public health, safety, or welfare requires emergency action, according to the SLA.
Hy Ting Restaurant’s owners are entitled to an expedited administrative law hearing.
Mr. Loo said Hy Ting will remain open without the liquor license. He said the SLA has suspended the license five years ago, and he remained open without it. The SLA granted a liquor license last September, and now that license has been suspended.
“I’ve got an uphill battle,” Mr. Loo acknowledged.
Top photo caption: Hy Ting Restaurant is still open, but is barred from selling alcohol after the New York State Liquor Authority suspended its license last week. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)