FARGO — Fargo's Liquor Control Board voted 4-1 in a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 15, to recommend that the City Commission give Africa Restaurant & Nightclub more time to work on its management and business issues.
The proposal would give the facility, whose liquor license has been suspended since July 1, another 30 days. The aim is for co-owner and new manager Mballu Brown, who has been working as a nursing assistant, to work with a professional manager to gain more experience.
The recommendation will go before the City Commission at a special meeting at 4 p.m. on Monday.
The other option was to revoke the license, which would then be returned to the city. That failed on a 3-2 vote by the liquor board.
Board members Lydia Tackett and Kay Schwarzwalter pushed for the extension after the revocation vote was rejected. They said they wanted to see what the law firm Brown and co-owner Corey Schultz hired could do to help the restaurant and club in southwest Fargo.
Brown told the board she wanted "to do it right" to save the business, which is still operating its restaurant daily until 8:30 p.m. with dine-in and to-go options.
"I want to make sure everything goes right. I want to see it run smoothly," she said, adding she put all of her money into the operation.
She asked exactly what the board would like to see her do.
Tackett suggested taking a management course and hiring an experienced, professional manager to shadow.
"I believe you can do this," said Tackett, who added she saw progress and promise in the last month and the passion in Brown to turn the troubled business around.
"I want to see it work," said Schwarzwalter, who mentioned she also saw the passion in Brown's commitment. She called for more progress in operational plans and for Brown to receive more training.
City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who chairs the Liquor Control Board, was the lone vote against the extension and voted along with board member John Stibbe for the failed revocation motion.
After the revocation failed, Stibbe then voted for the extension.
Piepkorn and Stibbe both raised concerns about the "same people" being involved in the operation as in previous applications as Schultz and Brown have been owners since the facility was first granted a liquor license in 2019.
Maintaining safety was also a major concern, Piepkorn said.
During the meeting, Police Chief David Zibolski said he still strongly encouraged revocation of the license despite the new manager.
Last month, Zibolski said he had "grave concerns" about continuing the license largely at that time because of the previously suggested manager — Danied Omane — and his past run-ins with police.
As for the current application, he said he still saw a pattern of false information that his investigative team found on the previous application.
Zibolski said public safety concerns were still an issue, too. In the past, he stated the operation was the site of numerous calls about fights, overserving, guns in the bar and an unsolved fatal shooting outside after the bar closing.
On top of that, Zibolski told the board about concerns with co-owner Schultz's behavior in an incident where he was arrested by West Fargo police for disorderly conduct after a late-night party. Zibolski described how Schultz first ran from officers and later had confrontations with officers and jailers.
The chief said that incident and Schultz's criminal record raised red flags and called into question his ability to have a liquor license, although it was noted Schultz was more of a silent partner in the business.
Newly hired lawyers for the club — Brent Brudvik and his associate Adam Richard of Hillsboro — argued for another chance for the business and said they were willing to help the operators "do it right" by getting a new management structure in place and being a good neighbor.
Richard said the changes, which they listed in the new application submitted days ago, would involve keeping an employee list, ensuring employees complete server training and offering a safety plan carried out by a five-member security team operating under a code of conduct.
Brudvik added the applicants "weren't perfect, but they want to do it right." He was "confident" in Brown's ability to operate the facility in the proper way.
As for Schultz's troubles, Richard said the co-owner had been rehabilitated, and after he completed his six-month deferred sentence on the charge, it would mean his guilty plea was withdrawn and leave him without a conviction.
Brudvik said it appeared the police chief in his statements was "nitpicking" and raised the issue of a larger number of calls to other bars in the city.
"They just want to be treated the same," Brudvik said.
Richard said the restaurant and nightclub could continue to "bring something unique and an exciting atmosphere to this town."
"It could be a great asset to town," he said, but he noted he was against continuing the license because he didn't like the same names in the new application and questioned if the facility could actually offer a safe atmosphere.
"It's a difficult discussion and topic," he said.