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After hosting wedding reception with nearly 100 guests, Giorgio’s faces liquor license suspension

Giorgio’s Catering in Baiting Hollow was one of 16 bars and restaurants that had their liquor license suspended by New York State this week for “egregious violations of pandemic-related Executive Orders,” according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But the state’s actions on catering halls has triggered a counter action by Giorgio’s and other catering facilities effected by the state’s regulations. They’ve scheduled a rally at noon in Hauppauge on Friday to appeal to the governor to allow them to open at up to 50% capacity, the same as restaurants. Currently, catering facilities — no matter how large — can only have up to 50 people present.

The rally will held at the east side of H. Lee Dennison building on 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge.

In addition, two catering businesses also have filed a class action lawsuit against the state on Aug. 28.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the state from preventing catering halls from reopening at more than 50% capacity.

In Giorgio’s case, the state found that on Sept. 25, investigators “observed 95 patrons at a wedding reception at the premises — nearly twice the legal limit. Half of the patrons were observed standing and mingling inside the premises, while the other half were outside on a deck, standing, socializing, and drinking, most without facial coverings.”

“Over the last week, the state’s multi-agency task force — led by the State Police and State Liquor Authority -— conducted 8,634 compliance checks, documenting violations at 40 establishments,” the governor said in a press release. 

Businesses face fines of up to $10,000 per violation of COVID-19 regulations.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has issued a number of executive orders limiting the capacity permitted in bars and restaurants in order to prevent the spread of the pandemic.  

Giorgio’s was one of only two Suffolk County establishments cited by the state in the most recent crackdown. Seven were in New York City and two were in Nassau County. The violations for the 16 businesses were observed between Sept. 19 and 27.

The rally Friday is an “urgent meeting” to appeal to the governor to allow catering businesses to open to 50% capacity, according to Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is acting at the contact person for the group and the organizer of the event. Ms. Giglio also is a Republican candidate for State Assembly in November.

“Let weddings, Sweet 16s, ceremonies and other activities that were put on hold during the COVID pandemic take place,” she said. “Catering facilities have been brought to the brink of bankruptcy with no cash flow since March.”

She said they have been living on loans, and that catering helps other businesses such as florists, photographers and disc jockeys.

Health officials have cautioned events like weddings can become super-spreaders for COVID-19. In Maine, an early August wedding of 65 guests — exceeding the state’s 50-person indoor limit — led to at least 175 cases of COVID-19 and seven fatalities, according to the Washington Post.

• Class Action lawsuit

In addition to the rally on Friday, a group called Reopen NY Venues has been formed and has launched a Facebook site and a lawsuit both aimed at getting catering halls reopened to 50% capacity, instead of just 50 people.

“We are not asking the state to rewrite its rules, just apply its rules and guidance fairly,” the site says. 

The class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by Bill & Ted’s Riviera Inc. of Massapequa and Partition Street Project LLC of Saugerties against the governor, Attorney General Letitia James, Greeley Ford of the State Liquor Authority, the SLA and Empire State Development Corporation.

The lawsuit says the state has “exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to promulgate and enforce multitude of executive orders in rapid succession over the court of the past three months.” 

It says the same venues being operated as a restaurant are treated differently if they have a wedding or catered event. 

“A restaurant with a regular capacity of 400 patrons may lawfully — and, according to New York State, safely — serve 200 people at a time in compliance with the executive orders, but it would be limited to an arbitrary cap of 50 people if it were to host a wedding dinner at the same location and under the same rules and protocols,” the lawsuit says. 

• State cracking down

Since the pandemic was declared in March, 217 liquor licenses have been suspended, according to the state. 

The emergency suspensions were ordered by the State Liquor Authority at special meetings of the SLA between Sept. 19 and Sept. 27.

“Emergency summary suspensions are imposed when the SLA finds the continued operation of a licensed business threatens public health and safety,” according to the press release. 

“Suspension orders are served immediately and remain in effect indefinitely, with the maximum penalty including the permanent revocation of the license and fines of up to $10,000 per violation. Licensees subject to an emergency suspension are entitled to an expedited hearing before an SLA Administrative law judge.”