Liquor License Reapplication Denied for Chehalis Restaurant That Flouted COVID Closure Orders

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Mar. 17—Three years ago this month, when orders from the state closed businesses and schools at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laurel Khan, owner of Chehalis restaurant Mackinaw's, had no idea she'd met the era that would see the end of her business and the start of her political aspirations.

With a reapplication for her liquor license being denied this week, Khan said Mackinaw's is likely to close in the coming weeks. For months, she's been running the restaurant off only the previous day's cash and debt, she said.

After months of publicly going against COVID health measures including stopping indoor dining and enforcing mask wearing, in December 2021, agents from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) revoked her liquor license and seized all the restaurant's alcohol. Khan also runs Curious the Bar out of the space adjacent to Mackinaw's, which she said made up a majority of her revenue in recent years.

Then, in April 2022, LCB agents again raided the business, allegedly seizing alcohol including wine, spirits and beer. While the second offense took Khan to court, charges against her were eventually dismissed without her admission of guilt. After two years running her business with no liquor license — which, in Washington, also means no cork service — she reapplied last September.

This week, her verdict came back. According to records Khan provided to The Chronicle, the LCB denied her request, stating "the board will not normally issue a license to any person who has demonstrated a pattern of disregard for laws and rules. ... Issuance of the liquor license will not be in the best interest of the welfare, health or safety of the people of the state."

Without the license, Khan has been barely scraping by. She said she's lost "everything" financially and will likely have to sell the restaurant. She is living on a boat in Olympia after selling her house.

"You should always have an exit plan. You should not be emotionally attached to your business. But it's easy to say," Khan said, later adding, "I joke, but it's really not a joke. My credit is horrible, I'll never be able to afford a house."

Still, as optimistic as ever, Khan now has her sights set elsewhere: the governor's office. Firmly believing the COVID-19 emergency orders by Gov. Jay Inslee were detrimental to the state, she intends to run as a Republican in 2024 with a focus on education, small business, and "capping" bureaucracy and taxes.

"I've been on both sides of the fence," she said. "Right now we aren't represented."

Khan considered running as an Independent, but decided the party was not "there yet," she said.

Mackinaw's, inside the Hotel Washington in downtown Chehalis, has been known as one of Lewis County's finest dining experiences for years. It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in October of 2021.