Food and Drink

Riverhead Town probes ownership of Michelle’s Cafe

Michelle's Cafe, downtown Riverhead, Griffing Avenue, tavern
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The potential future home of Michelle’s Cafe on Griffing Avenue in downtown Riverhead.

The Riverhead Town Board has requested the corporate papers of a proposed “tavern”  in downtown Riverhead after questions were raised about the true owner of the business during a public hearing Wednesday in Town Hall.

The new business, called Michelle’s Cafe, is seeking a special permit to operate at 155 Griffing Avenue.

Area business owners and town officials on Wednesday expressed concerns with the cafe plans, in part because the applicant’s stepfather and building owner, Luis Tejada, operated a downtown bar that police said was plagued by violent incidents.

That prior business, the Crystal Bar, was located next to Digger O’Dell’s on West Main Street and lost its liquor license in 2007

Supervisor Sean Walter said Thursday night that he was concerned the applicant, Roberto Marroquin, was a “straw man” for Mr. Tejada to run the planned business.

According to town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz, Mr. Tejada signed as the vice president of the cafe on the business’ certificate, and an architect’s plans list Mr. Tejada as the owner of the building.

The town’s code lists several items to be considered by the Town Board before approving or rejecting an application for a special tavern permit.

Included among those factors are the suitability of the business’ location, adequate parking, proper provisions for waste pickup, and the hours the business would be in operation and whether that would require regulation.

The board will also determine whether the proposed tavern would not “prevent or substantially impair” the use or development of other area properties, would not adversely affect health or safety, and that the hazards or disadvantages for a new tavern would not outweigh advantages.

Nearby business owners said during Wednesday’s public hearing that they worried that drunk patrons would create a safety problem.

The applicant’s lawyer said that Mr. Marroquin, not Mr. Tejada, will be running Michelle’s cafe, adding that the application should be judged “on its own merits.”

“This client is new to the scene and hopes to run a successful business,” said attorney Jonathan Brown. “It’s difficult and seems to me unfair that he is painted with a very broad brush.”

According to Mr. Brown’s testimony during the public hearing, the cafe will focus on food, not alcohol, though he acknowledged the tavern would not have a stove or oven to cook food. The business would serve pre-cooked food heated in a microwave, he said.

The public hearing was left open until Sept 14. for residents to submit written comments.

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