When St. Paul police were called to the RAS Ethiopian Restaurant, Bar and Lounge on Jan. 21 on reports of an assault on a minor, they found a 19-year-old girl outside bleeding from a cut on her head. They also found a locked back patio door. After five minutes of pounding, someone finally let them into the establishment, where 15 to 20 patrons were drinking and milling around.
It took days for the restaurant to provide security camera footage. Under conditions of the bar license, it should have been made available to police on demand. And, the video appears incomplete — footage of the bar fracas begins shortly after the alleged assault on the 19-year-old would have taken place.
Those allegations form the basis of a Department of Safety and Inspections recommendation to go beyond a mere financial penalty or license suspension and revoke the restaurant’s liquor license altogether, ending its bar service after 15 years of operation.
On Wednesday, after a brief discussion in front of a crowded audience of bar fans, the St. Paul City Council voted 6-0 to do exactly that. To regain a liquor license at 2516 Seventh St. W., RAS owner Zinash Amde of Woodbury would have to take the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Amde has maintained he did not receive a May 6 letter from the city indicating he could appeal the liquor license revocation to an administrative law judge. By the time that process became clear, the window to request an administrative hearing had closed, said his attorney, Brian Alton.
The council’s determination to approve an “upward departure” was based in part upon two recent city code violations, but Alton said both of the prior violations boiled down to parking concerns.
The restaurant had failed to finish a parking lot that abuts another property owner’s vacant lot or install a barrier between the two. The city fined the business $500 in April 2021 and $1,000 in September 2021.
“It is unfair to revoke a license and take away the livelihood of a business owner without any opportunity to contest it,” said Alton in a June 14 email to the city. “Due process, in addition to the ordinance, requires reasonable notice and a hearing. The owner needs more time to respond. Due process also requires that the owner be given a sufficient amount of time to prepare a defense.”
The Department of Safety and Inspections noted in its findings that the bar had previously failed to provide security camera footage on demand when police investigated incidents ranging from late-night after-parties to assaults in 2019, 2015 and 2014.
“It’s clear from the case file there are a lot of violations,” said St. Paul City Council Member Mitra Jalali.