Manchester, NH — Ted Gatsas, a Republican who is seeking a third term as mayor of the Granite State’s Queen City, has injected himself directly into a regulatory squabble over a restaurant’s failure to obtain the proper permits for constructing an outdoor bar. The resulting brouhaha, fanned by the Union Leader and right-wing radio talkshow host Rich Girard, begs the question: Has Gatsas directly involved himself in the regulatory wrangling out of political self-interest?
In 2012, K.C.’s Rib Shack hosted a fundraiser for Republican Alderman Phil Greazzo, who was seeking to oust long-term Democratic State Senator Lou D’Allesandro, in its outdoor Tiki Bar. That same venue will host a fundraiser for the Manchester Republican Committee in the very same outdoor lounge that has been the center of the regulatory controversy that has seen Gatsas take on his own municipal regualtors.
It is the Tiki Bar that is the center of the controversy, as restaurateur Kevin Cornish failed to get the proper permits, Queen City regulators claim, to expand the outside bar and lounge.
According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester’s Code Enforcement Division charged Cornish with illegally expanding the bar structure. Among the 12 violations Cornish was cited for was “improper use of electrical extension cords” and “lack of plumbing or sanitary facilities” as there was no pipe to the Tiki Bar’s sink.
What seemed to cause the tiff was when Cornish defied the Division and decided to keep his bar open for the Fourth of July extended weekend, rather than loose business. He understood he faced a $50 fine if he did not comply, and felt that was worth the additional business.
When the Division found out about his defiance, it moved in to close him down. At that time, Alderman Greazzo, a libertarian who believes that City Government should be more business friendly, came to Cornish’s aid.
I dined at K.C. Rib Shack recently as a first time customer, and the place was perfectly clean and seemed to post no health hazards. The Phantom Gourmet TV show, in its segment on the restaurant, pointedly mentioned that the eatery was very clean, far more normal for a restaurant of its type.
While dining there, I observed the owner, Kevin Cornish, managing his wait staff to make sure that the dining experience was first rate. I had a cordon bleu burger (topped with ham), and it was delicious. The beer was fresh from the tap.
I really liked the ambience of the Shack it reminded me of great places I hung out in California when I lived there in the 1990s and plan to return to K.C.’s Rib Shack with my sister, who loves barbeque and is a license plate fantatic (license plates are part of the decor). If I were writing a Yelp review, I’d give it four out of five stars.
I talked to the owner, Mr. Cornish, and he told me, in all seriousness, that the closing of the Tiki Bar came down “like a sledgehammer.” I have friends who run a restaurant out in California and believe me, it is a full-time/over-time job. I can believe that whatever mistakes were made on the owner’s part likely not out of some wrong intent on his part, but omissions from coping with the hubbub of managing a restaurant.
We patronize restaurants not realizing that, in may ways, it’s a high pressure environment — running a wait staff, cooks, finances, payroll, etc. And the fact is, restaurants are one of the hardest businesses to make a long-time go at: Even the most successful restaurants can quickly fall out of favor with patrons when the new “Flavor of the month” (or a chain) move in.
Personally, I think what Mr. Cornish wants is for the city regulators just to cut him a little slack. However, his links to Gatsas and Greazzo via his sponsoring Republican fund-raisers begs the question: Would another restaurateur in similar straights be given the same V.I.P. treatment?
Gatsas and Greazzo, who are both businessmen as well as politicians, have flexed their political muscle under the aegis of regulatory reform. In Greazzo’s case, he is doing constituent services for a businessman located in his ward.
The situation brings up the question about whether Gatsas, whose reelection campaign is heavily financed by Manchester businesses, acted as he did to ensure that K.C.’s Rib Shack’s Tiki Lounge will be open and operational to host the Manchester Republican Committee’s fundraiser there, which is scheduled for August 1st. Or is it just another example of his bullying?
Is this an example of political corruption? That decision ultimately will be made by Manchester voters in November, when Gatsas faces Democratic Alderman Patrick Arnold in the general election.