Race, public safety, reputation all brought up in robust debate about Peoria business (2024)

No decision was made by the Peoria City Council Tuesday night regarding a restaurant's controversial liquor license application for a Downtown Peoria location.

Race, public safety, the restaurant's reputation and owner's history were all subject matter during the council debate.

The City Council voted Tuesday to take two more weeks to discuss the liquor license application for Highly Flavored restaurant at Twin Towers Mall after hearing arguments from citizens who were both in favor and opposed to the restaurant's request to serve liquor downtown.

Race brought up during liquor license discussion

Race became a topic of discussion in the debate after Highly Flavored's owner Jeremy Sargent, who is Black, said he wanted an "equal opportunity" to be able to serve liquor out of the Twin Towers Mall.

City councilmember John Kelly took issue with that statement, saying he inferred Sargent's statement implied that the city was being unfair to Black business owners and was "racial discrimination."

Kelly also referenced that Highly Flavored was behind on payments to the city. City attorney Patrick Hayes told the council that the owners had not paid city restaurant taxes in February, March or April.

"Somehow, someway, in the midst of all our discrimination, we have given licenses to relatives and to him in the past and I don't think we became racist over the last couple of weeks," Kelly said. "I don't appreciate that as a defense for him. Secondly, he owes fees and there's something that has to be done with the lease. I think at best we are premature in our consideration of this."

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali then told Kelly that Sargent made no mention in his comments of racial discrimination.

"I didn't hear Mr. Sargent say anything related to racial discrimination, I heard him say he wanted equal opportunity but I didn't hear what you inferred," Ali said. "I didn't read that in his letter and I didn't hear that in his comments."

Sargent clarified that what he meant by "equal opportunity" was to have the same capacity to serve liquor out of the Twin Towers Mall as another business, Kickback on Fulton.

City councilmember Bernice Gordon-Young, who proposed the deferral on voting on the liquor license, asked Sargent about his target audience for Highly Flavored. She said there was an assumption being made that he was targeting a certain demographic.

Sargent responded that he had no target audience and that "all money was green" to him.

'Forced out':Peoria restaurant says it was told to vacate Landmark Recreation Center spot

Public safety considered in Highly Flavored application

At the heart of the matter for the council was weighing whether Highly Flavored serving liquor downtown would pose a risk to public safety.

That question stems from the "significant concern" the Peoria Police Department raised about the liquor license and a dispute between Highly Flavored and management at Landmark Recreation Center.

The Peoria Police Department said there were 119 calls to Landmark Recreation Center during Highly Flavored's time there. However, none of those calls can be directly tied to the restaurant.

Another speaker, local attorney Rob Hanauer was opposed to Highly Flavored receiving a liquor license. He cited the increase in police calls to Landmark Recreation during Highly Flavored's tenure there as one of his reasons for opposition.

City councilmember Chuck Grayeb said police calls did increase at Landmark while Highly Flavored was there and that is something the council needed to take into consideration before allowing the restaurant to operate downtown. Grayeb said it was "huge concern" that an uptick in police calls to Landmark occurred after Highly Flavored was established.

"In Peoria, we sadly continue to have situations where all available Peoria police officers have to respond to the downtown because of unruly crowds, shots fired, fights, etc.," Grayeb said. "What we have now is a public safety and officer safety nightmare."

Background:Amid relocation, Peoria restaurant faces 'significant concerns' over liquor application

Closing time for Highly Flavored leaves council with questions

Ultimately, the council decided Tuesday night that it still did not have enough information to grant the liquor license or deny it.

Highly Flavored's proposed closing time at the Twin Towers Mall is still in question, leaving some on the council uneasy about taking a vote. The lease agreement with the Twin Towers mandates the restaurant would have to close by 8 p.m. However, restaurant ownership has asked for an 11 p.m. closing time, something they told the council they are still negotiating with Twin Towers management.

Gordon-Young asked Sargent if he would consider operating out of the Twin Towers Mall without a liquor license.

Sargent responded he would if that's what he was forced to do but said he wanted to run a full-service restaurant, "not a nightclub" that would be "no different than a Texas Roadhouse."

Sargent said he wants to be "somewhere where I'm wanted" and added that his restaurant's departure from Landmark Recreation has been a "nightmare." He mentioned that he had previously operated another restaurant with a liquor license, The Fry Spot, and had not encountered the issues City Council was worried about.

Grayeb, Denis Cyr and Zach Oyler all voted not to defer the item.

Race, public safety, reputation all brought up in robust debate about Peoria business (2024)
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