WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB)– Paul Santora, the owner of Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill restaurants, says for the first time in his many years of ownership, he’s afraid to operate a restaurant in New York State after the New York State Liquor Authority suspended his liquor license.
“It’s become a society that scares me, for the first time in my career, I’m actually afraid to have a business in New York State.”Paul Santora, Owner, Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill restaurants
Santora says he’s scared because “it is back to the same old — guilty until proven innocent. I don’t think they [NYS Liquor Authority] have just-cause.”
Paul Sanotra is also one of the dozens of restaurant owners suing New York State over the COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting indoor dining.
He owns three restaurants across WNY under the Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill name. He says his liquor license was suspended December 31 at around 12:30 p.m. by the State Liquor Authority.
Santora says his liquor license was suspended because the state believed customers were in “imminent danger” because of a lack of airflow.
News 4 has reached out to the New York State Liquor Authority regarding this story and has not received a response.
Santora tells us a representative from the state liquor authority came to his Transit Road location in Williamsville on December 29 around 7:15 p.m. and allegedly did not immediately identify themselves.
He says the representative was on the patio of the restaurant “posing as kind of a customer,” and then came inside to report airflow issues in the establishment. The liquor authority representative allegedly “stated that he was observing the outside and noticed there wasn’t enough airflow and there could be some problems,” said Santora.
Santora goes on to say, another Santora’s owner was on-site that night and told the state representative “there were soffits above that he [the state representative] couldn’t see because it was nighttime.”
Paul Santora says the representative was asked if two additional doors should be opened to allow more ventilation. The representative allegedly said, “No, don’t worry about it, don’t bother your guests.”
Santora says there was enough airflow.
“He [the state representative] took a videotape of the place because you can’t see the soffit air on 40-foot sides, 40-foot length on each side of the patio because it’s dark, you can see it during the day, he took that video and I guess called an emergency board meeting about us on yesterday or today, the liquor authority did. They voted just on me to pull my liquor license.”Paul Santora, Owner, Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill restaurants
In response to the lack of airflow allegation, Santora says there have been no complaints in the past about proper airflow, “not only have there been no complaints, there can’t be any complaints because we have sufficient airflow.”
Santora believes his customers weren’t in any danger and says he’s had a liquor license for over 20-years with no offenses. However, any issues he’s had with the Liquor Authority in the past had yielded a warning, Santora tells us.
We asked Santora how long the liquor license suspension would last, he said “they make you go to court, they make you prove your case, they make you do all this stuff. So as long as everybody drags their feet, we can’t get in for that, then that’s as long as it’s going to take.”
Santora said if he had been given the chance to fix the issues the state had, he would have. He adds he’s been a “rule compliant” person from day one of business ownership.
“I can’t imagine, with no disrespect to New York State, that there would be any reason that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fix what was wrong or have the opportunity to prove my case in any way shape, or form.”Paul Santora, Owner, Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill restaurants
When it comes to running his business now, Santora says people will come in and not stay because they can’t be served alcohol. He adds that it’s a blow to the already struggling business. Santora tells us he’s been “paying employees for six weeks and have not paid ourselves a penny.”
With the liquor license gone, he says they’ve laid off 10 to 15 more employees, because they can’t afford to pay them.
“So, Happy New Year to my employees, and the New York State Liquor Authority has put them out of a job for the New Year with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. It’s a shame. It’s a complete travesty.”Paul Santora, Owner, Santora’s Pizza Pub & Grill restaurants
Santora’s Attorney, Corey Hogan of HoganWillig Law, says he believes someone in Albany has a problem with him being vocal about his frustrations.
“I’ll be very anxious to find out where these orders came from. We know they came from Albany. Whether they came from Cuomo or one of his underlings I don’t know yet.”
In regard to the lawsuit, Santora tells us they’re not suing the state out of hatred. He says “we’re suing because of the inconsistencies and we need to open.” He says it’s a complete “180-degree turn” from the summer when restaurants were allowed to operate.
He worries that if the Western New York restaurants cannot reopen the area will lose its culture.
He says his liquor license was revoked at 12:30 p.m. on December 31.
He reiterates that if his Williamsville location been given a warning, he would have fixed any issues.
Again, News 4 has reached out to the New York State Liquor Authority regarding this story and has not received a response.