Woodsmans Grill on First Avenue in downtown Anoka once again has a liquor license.
Woodsmans has recently re-opened after the business closed for two months due to plumbing problems.
Former manager Pat Jackson is now the owner of the business and is required to be the new holder of the liquor license.
But that license received a narrow approval on a 3-2 vote by the Anoka City Council.
City staff had recommended denying the on-sale malt liquor and wine license because of two criminal convictions against Jackson.
“When the background check was completed the search is done through the BCA… and two items of concern came forward,” said City Manager Tim Cruikshank, noting it gave staff concern about the issuance of the license.
In 2001 Jackson was convicted of a misdemeanor for financially exploiting a vulnerable adult. In 2012 he was convicted of a gross misdemeanor for using a credit card without consent, a misunderstanding with his own mother, Jackson told the city council.
While misdemeanor charges do not disqualify a person from having a liquor license in the city, it is up the discretion of the council.
“The discretion of whether you issue this is yours as a council,” Cruikshank said during a Dec. 17 city council meeting. “The law doesn’t preclude you from making a decision one way or another. As staff we are informing you of what we have learned, our recommendation is based solely on that.”
The council did take some time to deliberate the issue.
“This is difficult because I enjoy the Woodsmans Grill,” said Councilmember Jeff Weaver. “I find it difficult to go against the chief.”
Councilmember Mark Freeburg said he wanted to help Jackson to be successful in the business and asked Jackson to talk about the circumstances surrounding the convictions.
Jackson admitted he had made a mistake in the past.
“I’m not trying to make excuses for what I did,” he told the council. “In 2013 I took a chance to buy Woodsmans. This is my baby and I’m going to take full responsibility for it.”
Jackson said he came into the meeting knowing he might be denied a liquor license. He also estimated 90 percent of his sales come from food, with only 10 percent from liquor.
“You sound like a good businessman who wants to make a living,” said Freeburg.
“I want to see you make a go of it, but it’s our job to ask these tough questions. I know people make mistakes. I really personally don’t think Anoka has anything to lose, but more to gain by having a restaurant there.”
Along with Freeburg, Councilmembers Carl Anderson and Weaver voted in favor of the Woodsmans license.
“I do not live in fear of the Woodsmans Grill or Patrick being in business serving food to people,” said Freeburg.
But Anderson did say that by approving the license the council would be assuming a lot of risk and he warned Jackson the city would be keeping a close eye on the business and wouldn’t hesitate in revoking the license if it learned of any problems.
Mayor Phil Rice and Councilmember Steve Schmidt were opposed to approving the license for Jackson.
City Attorney Scott Baumgartner advised the council on its future recourse if problems did come up at the restaurant.
“If there is any illegal activity the city has the right to go in and revoke the liquor license,” Baumgartner said. “The problem or potential problem is until it’s a conviction it’s an allegation. And how does the council want to respond to an allegation? You are setting yourself for a situation that could be quite difficult down the road.”
Mandy Moran Froemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org