PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Licensing Board suspended Zucchini's alcohol license for five days because of a wedding in August that did not comply with the state's COVID-19 guidelines.
However, the suspension will be held in abeyance until the governor has declared that the pandemic is over, therefore there is no specific date of suspension at this time.
The city's senior sanitarian Andy Cambi had reached out to restaurant owner Lynne Soldato in September to discuss a complaint received through social media about a gathering at Zucchini's that did not follow pandemic protocols.
Cambi told the board that Zucchini's held a 50-person wedding on Aug. 29 that was brought indoors, and in pictures on social media, it was observed that there was no social distancing and no masks being worn, and there was dancing.
Cambi said he went over violations with Soldato, sent fines for the violations and reduced the fines when they met later that week. The restaurant was told it would have to submit a safety plan for any future events.
Four fines were issued with a total of $2,000, each fine being $500. These amounts were reduced during discussion and Zucchini's has paid $900 already to the city.
A similar event happened at the Proprietor's Lodge in July, resulting in the suspension
of its alcohol license from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. Proprietor's Lodge was not fined for these violations but was issued a warning.
In March, there was an issue with Zucchini's failing to follow the COVID-19 shutdown rules that lead to losing its food license for 10 days. Cambi said this was
Zucchini's warning and the reason it was being fined for this second offense.
After the first violation, Cambi said he had a clear conversation with Soldato about what was expected of her under COVID-19 restaurant guidelines.
Attorney Matthew Mozian of Campoli, Monteleone & Mozian PC represented Zucchini's in this meeting. He said the long-standing, family-owned business is frequented by community members and is taking COVID-19 protocols seriously. Mozian said the staff has been trained to serve under COVID-19 protocols, wear masks at all times, enforce social distancing, and regularly sanitize their hands and all surfaces.
He said the event on Aug. 29 was a deliberate booking of less than 50 people. At this wedding, he said Soldato greeted attendees at the door and told them the rules of keeping masks on at all times other than eating, staying 6 feet apart, and not dancing.
"To be clear, this was not some wild party," Mozian said. "Not some flagrant violation of any COVID-19 orders."
The wedding ceremony was held outside, but with inclement weather, Soldato moved everyone inside to a large space separated by a fireplace that Mozian described as two rooms. There were 20 people in one room and 22 in the other before adding staff. Mozian said separating the wedding was a deliberate decision done by Saldato to follow orders. The attendees ate and then left.
"My client takes the COVID-19 guidelines very seriously," he said. "They have since March. And that's why they went through these precautions for this event itself."
Mozian listed the protocols that Zucchini's has put into play for safe dining, including having shields installed to separate diners, adding directional arrows on the ground, enforcing social distancing, signage reminders to wear masks, and offering hand sanitizer to patrons. Tables are not allowed to be moved in the restaurant as they are placed 6 feet apart.
Additionally, to avoid customers drinking too much and not social distancing, Zucchini's now closes early.
Recently, Saldato has adopted a COVID-19 control plan in connection to her discussion with Cambi and submitted it to him in early October.
Mozian said Cambi told Soldato that the COVID-19 control plan she submitted "looked great." It also has cleared events with Cambi, he said.
Soldato said the wedding was for a 60-year-old couple and that she felt she had done everything possible could to keep attendees safe.
She also clarified that there wasn't a DJ, but music was being played on a speaker provided by the wedding party. Because of this, Zucchini's fourth fine was removed.
Board member Dennis Powell made the motion to suspend Zucchini's all-alcohol license for five days but hold the suspension in abeyance until Gov. Baker has declared that the pandemic is over. This was seconded by board member Dina Guiel Lampiasi and passed on a 3-1 vote.
The board concluded that the large space separated by a fireplace did not count as two rooms, therefore having 50 people in the space violated guidelines. It also concluded that attendees not wearing masks indoors aside from eating is a violation.
"This is a tough time and all restaurants and small family businesses and large businesses are doing what they can to follow the rules," said Lampiasi. "I feel very strongly that we have to be consistent in how we are approaching each issue."