The Boston Licensing Board today ordered Rosa Mexicano, 155 Seaport Blvd., and Kava Neo-Taverna, 315 Shawmut Ave., shut for one night each after BPD detectives found them with way more patrons than allowed under current Covid-19 restrictions.
Managers at both restaurants apologized and vowed it would never happen again.
Rosa Mexicano manager Greg Sherman, who said he lost his mother to the virus last May, was particularly apologetic for all the people found inside his restaurant this past Friday night.
Sherman said what happened was that it was too cold for people to dine in the restaurant's outdoor igloos and huts, but rather than turn those patrons away, he allowed them to come inside to eat. Responding to a 311 call from a patron inside that night, detectives found 133 people inside at a time when the restaurant should not have had more than 74 under the state's 25% capacity limit for restaurants. In earlier times, Rosa Mexicano was licensed for 296 patrons.
When Licensing Sgt. William Gallagher and a C-6 officer arrived and found all those extra patrons, "I was embarrassed, I was disheartened," Sherman said. "It was eye opening. ... I don't think anything ever gut punched me as how eye opening this was."
Sherman said he realized that morning he might have an issue so he cut off OpenTable reservations at 8 a.m., but didn't realize just how many patrons would wind up inside that night.
He said that going forward, he will not take any reservations through OpenTable until the state relaxes its requirements and restaurants can get back to at least 50% capacity. He added that the next day, he had his staff remove enough tables so that the restaurant could only host a maximum of 66 people.
"I'm very sorry this happened, it should have never happened, and nothing like this will ever happen again," he said. "If we don't have the public's trust than we don't have a business, bottom line."
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce, who made the motion for a one-day Friday suspension, said she sympathized with how difficult the situation is for restaurants, but noted that the police only showed up after a call from a diner inside the restaurant that night. "This is a public health crisis," she said.
The board voted a similar one-day suspension for Kava after licensing Det. Eddie Hernandez testified that he and his partner found 19 people inside the restaurant when it should have had no more than 9 on Thursday night. In normal times, the restaurant is licensed for 34 patrons.
Owner Alexander Lievano also apologized. He said what happened was that two parties were in the process of settling up and leaving when he let a third party in to escape the cold outside.
But Hernandez said he saw no evidence that was what was actually happening. Board member Keeana Saxon said other restaurants have figured out how to keep waiting patrons warm while waiting outside for a table - by calling them when their table is ready. Board member Liam Curran questioned whether the restaurant was leaving enough time between parties to adequately sanitize tables.
Because the violation happened on a Thursday, the board voted to shut Kava on an upcoming Thursday.