ABC Board Denies El Chico Private Club Request

September 20, 2006-- Posted at 11:00 pm

LITTLE ROCK-- You won't be buying a margarita or any other alcoholic beverages at Jonesboro's El Chico restaurant.

At today's hearing with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in Little Rock, commissioners denied the restaurant chains' request for a private club permit.

"Based on the evidence, I do believe that this area that we're talking about is currently adequately served at this point, and so I'm going to make a motion that we uphold the directors decision and deny the permit," ABC Board Chairman Ron Fuller says.

A change in the board's trend in granting Jonesboro private club permits came as a shock even to the opposition.

"When we come down here, we feel like we're behind the eight ball. You know the board does not turn many of them down," Rev. Steve Jacobson of Friendly Hope Baptist Church.

With 10 private club permits already in the city, El Chico's request was one many thought would be a given.

"By a vote of three to one the permit is disapproved at this point. Thank you all for coming," Fuller says.

The board voted down the request saying the location was key in the denial.

El Chico is located in what the chairman calls a high traffic area and just across the street from O'Charley's, a restaurant already granted a license.

He says private clubs should be evenly dispersed instead of saturated in one area.

The opposition in this case was also very strong with nearly 3 thousand signatures to a petition and several letters from county officials... A support El Chico lacked.

"I think chairman Fuller made that very clear. They did not have any city, chamber of commerce officials on their side," Jacobson says.

But for Rick Sparkman, president of El Chico's parent corp, this decision is devastating.

"It's kinda devastating when they have all the revenues and the resources to put together thousands of people and I'm just a guy trying to feed his family," Sparkman says.

Attorney for the opposition, David Hogue says although the board's decision might seem like a drastic change to those involved, it's not that out of the ordinary.

"I think the board is more careful than some give them credit for to apply the law, the traffic hazards, and the safety and how many people actually oppose and so forth," Attorney for Christian Legan Service David Hogue says.

Although this is a victory for the opposition... They still say, it should be left up to the people of Craighead County, not a board in Little Rock.

"We've been voted dry and until that changes, it ought not to be taken out of the hands of local people to decide how their county is going to function," Jacobson says.

The opposition presented letters from Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann, Craighead County Judge Dale Haas and 2nd Judicial District Prosecutor Brent Davis.

They also told of opposition from the owner of the BP station at the corner of Caraway and Parker.

They said the owner had concerns for the safety of teenagers that gather in the station parking lot on the weekends.