The popular Mexican restaurant at Oakway Center ran afoul of liquor laws when an employee failed an undercover sting organized by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Mucho Gusto will not serve margaritas alongside their Mucho Dippos for the next week. The popular Mexican restaurant at Oakway Center ran afoul of liquor laws when an employee failed an undercover sting organized by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

Mucho Gusto is owned by Jim and Phil West. The West brothers operate Eugene-based Westraunt Concepts, a multi-concept, quick-casual restaurant company consisting of Mucho Gusto, Dickie Jo’s, and Yo My My. Mucho Gusto’s combination of “Fresh Mex” flavors with the “build-it-yourself” model has proven highly successful at both the Oakway store in Eugene as well as their Medford store.

In addition to offering fresh and customizable Mexican food, Mucho Gusto also serves alcoholic beverages: margaritas, daiquiris, and Mexican beers. But last month the beverage side of their company got them into trouble. On July 23, the OLCC released a statement on several violations of liquor laws throughout the State of Oregon. Mucho Gusto was mentioned therein:

“Mucho Gusto Mexican Kitchen, 67 Oakway Center, Eugene; will pay a fine of $1,485 or serve a nine-day liquor license suspension. Licensee will be removed from the Responsible Vendor Program. Licensee is Mucho, Inc.; James West and Phillip West, corporate principals.”

The OLCC had sent in a “decoy,” a minor, to order an alcoholic beverage. The employee at the restaurant carded the minor but miscalculated the date of birth. Upon serving alcohol to the minor, an officer stepped in and revealed an OLCC badge.

The OLCC sent a “decoy,” a minor, into Mucho Gusto to order an alcoholic beverage. The employee at the restaurant carded the minor but miscalculated the date of birth.

Jim West, co-owner of Mucho Gusto, gives his perspective on what happened:

“The OLCC does periodic stings where they come with a decoy. They test our system to see if we not only card an alleged minor but refuse to serve a minor alcohol. The law says you are supposed to card everyone 26 and under. Our internal rule is to card everyone 30 and under. This decoy girl who was a minor came in and our employee did the right thing. She did card her. But she miscalculated the date by a year. She served her and there you go — it wasn’t some nefarious thing.

The company chose the nine-day liquor license suspension in lieu of the $1485 fine. Concerning these two options, West is candid:

“It’s pretty much extortion — they say, ‘Pay us a several thousand dollar fine or we’ll put the Scarlet Letter on you.'”

West explains that Mucho Gusto mainly sells food, so taking nine days off from serving alcohol made more sense than paying a fine.

“Alcohol is 2% of my sales. I’m not going to pay them anything.”

Yesterday, a bright-red notice — or Scarlet Letter, according to West — appeared next to Mucho Gusto’s front door. It is a “Notice of Liquor License Suspension.”

The suspension began yesterday, Monday, August 20. Also starting yesterday, a bright-red notice — or Scarlet Letter, according to West —  appeared next to Mucho Gusto’s front door. It is a “Notice of Liquor License Suspension.” The notice states:

Due to violation of Oregon liquor law, the liquor license allowing the sale and service of alcohol is suspended from 7 am on 8-20-2012 to 7 am on 8-29-2012. Liquor shall not be removed, sold, received, delivered, served or consumed during the period of suspension.”

The notice may not be removed or altered for the duration of the suspension.

As far as the employee is concerned, West chose not to fire her.

“She continues to work with us but she no longer works in a position where alcohol is served. She’s college-educated. She knows how to do math. She made a human mistake.

While West admitted that his employee made a mistake, he also believes it is a mistake for the OLCC to target companies like his that sell very little alcohol. He believes that the agency should focus on places where minors are actually likely to go to break the rules. West says,

“What irritates me is that the OLCC is charged with making sure that alcohol gets consumed safely. Obviously serving a minor creates pain in our community. But I wish they would focus their limited resources on the more problematic spaces that create the real tragedies.

The OLCC’s minor decoy program is designed to reduce underage drinking and increase ID checking of people who appear under age 26. In their informational pamphlet “Minor Sales Checks,” the OLCC states:

“All businesses that sell or serve alcohol are subject to a decoy visit, including licensees, agents and their employees. The OLCC selects businesses for decoy visits on a random or targeted basis in compliance with ORS 471.346 and OAR 845-009-0200. A selected business will be visited at least once during a 12-month period. An OLCC manager may authorize multiple visits if he or she believes that alcohol sales to minors are likely to continue. Selection of businesses is done by simple random sampling, which ensures to the greatest extent possible that each licensee or liquor agent has an equal chance of being selected.

The results of the OLCC’s minor decoy operations in Eugene in 2012 are not yet published. But last year’s results, posted on the OLCC’s website, show that the OLCC visited a wide variety of places. Places where minor decoys were sent varied from retail locations (Walgreens, Costco) to college bars (Rennie’s Landing, the Horsehead) to high-end dining establishments (Osteria Sfizio, Excelsior Cafe).

A representative from the OLCC could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.