It’s the season of giving for many. But not for the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board.
On Friday morning, enforcement staff with the state agency dropped by Mackinaw's Restaurant in Chehalis to seize containers of alcohol and to revoke the business’s liquor license after many months of publicly flouting COVID-19 health measures and refusing to temporarily close during a statewide outbreak about a year ago.
Since December 2020, a total of four violations have been filed against the business by the board.
By revoking the license, the state may have done the business in. Owner Laurel Khan, despite her persistence and optimism, said it’s likely the business won’t be able to survive. She said she might have to close down Mackinaw’s and its associated bars and rooms.
The restaurant is not definitely closing, though. Only the liquor license has been revoked.
Khan spoke to The Chronicle on Friday morning, shortly before enforcement staff dropped by. She said the whole ordeal is an injustice to the local business community and called the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s enforcement discrimination.
She pointed to other states across the country that have reopened and also the lack of enforcement at Lumen Field during Seahawks games. She feels the state is not enforcing rules in King County.
“It’s really a tragedy. Not only to just take away this economic base, but this is a growing area, and this is the one place that businesses can bring their people and say, ‘hey, this is Chehalis. We have this here,’” she said, noting that she would rather see hefty fines over a full revoking of her license.
To Khan, she said, it’s a matter of freedom, liberties and keeping a sense of normalcy — but that might cost her and her 14 employees their jobs at Mackinaw’s. Khan has previously been vocal about her distaste for mandates, having attended freedom rallies and vocally pushed 20th Legislative District lawmakers to do something about it at a town hall over the summer.
There’s no regret, Khan said.
“I stood up for what I believed and I don’t regret that I led my team through something we all believed in. I do regret that it will affect my employees’ livelihoods, and that part hurts. But there is a plan in place, though,” she said.
She still plans on hosting Christmas parties and events in the coming days, but won’t charge her “guests” for alcohol and drinks.
“I’m losing everything anyways, so why can’t I give?” she asked.
Cannabis and Liquor Control Board spokesperson Julie Graham said on Friday that instances of alcohol seizure and license revoking for failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines have been extremely rare since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
Only a small number of similar actions have occurred, she said, and business owners have overwhelmingly been very responsive to learning about the mandates so that they stay within compliance.
“Most of them have been willing to comply and so there have been very few where we’ve needed to take the step of suspending or removing a license,” Graham said, noting that it’s always their goal to use education as a preeminent action to seizing. “In this case, that just wasn’t working. And, therefore, after a series of progressive actions, the board made the decision to suspend her license.”
Four licenses have been canceled in all of Washington state and 17 temporarily suspended, Graham said.
Khan said she attempted to fight the mandates through multiple administrative hearings with the board, but was unsuccessful.
In time for the 10 a.m. seizure, a pair of enforcement employees walked through the doors of Mackinaw’s at about 9:37 a.m. and greeted Khan by her first name. A few of the customers were already at the bar, having a morning drink to mark the unique occasion.
The enforcement employees and Khan began reviewing paperwork in a nearby lounge. An employee of Mackinaw’s began berating the state employees, saying, “you come to work and feel good about yourselves? That’s great.”
Accusations that they were “picking and choosing” began to circulate, with one of the customers saying they should take a drive up to Lumen Field.
At about 10 minutes to the 10 a.m. seizure, wine and beer bottles began opening. As the enforcement officers began systematically taking down the three dozen or so hard alcohol containers lining the wall, disgruntled customers and employees only had a small amount of time to enjoy their drinks before Khan could no longer serve alcohol.
Khan uncorked a trio of wine bottles. A bartender dropped some Bailey’s Irish Cream liquor into another person’s coffee. Protestors — with signs in hand comparing Inslee to the Nazi Party and declaring “Mackinaw’s Serves This Community Not Inslee” — came into the bar as enforcement continued their work.
Someone put on music. Aaron Lewis’s “Am I The Only One” blared loudly as everyone enjoyed their morning wine and beer, and the state went about its work.
Rick Barrett, a sales manager at Cascade Hardwood in Chehalis, was one of a growing crowd of folks who stopped in to see what was going on. He said the seizure was a shame because their 135 employees and customers go to Mackinaw’s.
It’s their go-to spot. And now the future is uncertain.
“It honestly helps us sell lumber worldwide. They’re not thinking of the ramifications of their actions,” Barrett said of enforcement.
Looking on as the state seized a large majority of her alcohol, Khan said it was still “unbelievable” that this was happening.
“I’m not going to lose this,” she said. “The next two nights are our time where we have Christmas parties and people coming in and having reservations. And I’m not shutting down for that … I have to stand up for what I believe in. And, like I said, there’s a silver lining. But at the moment it’s hard.”
Khan tore her business and liquor license in half prior to enforcement stopping by. Back in its case, it was proudly displayed at the entrance to one Mackinaw’s’ bars — “F*** Jay Inslee + WSLCB” was scribbled in marker on the paperwork.
At about 10:12 a.m., one enforcement officer approached the license and pulled it out of its framing. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was now playing in the background. He crossed out the section stipulating their liquor license, initialled it, and placed it back in the case.
The song ended about the time they pulled the license down.
“Let’s play ball,” one person yelled.
Mackinaw’s is considered one of the best restaurants in Lewis County. Earlier this year, it was among a handful of local eateries featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” one of Food Network’s most popular shows.