San Rafael sushi restaurant, GrubHub driver in trouble after undercover operation

An officials says the California ABC has issued 214 citations to delivery drivers so far for not asking for identification while delivering drinks containing alcohol.
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- In light of COVID-19, the California Alcoholic Beverage Control loosened restrictions on the delivery of mixed drinks. The move was to help struggling businesses, but it created a new problem -- alcohol delivery to minors.

Now one local business is in trouble and says it feels unfairly targeted by the Alcoholic Beverage Control's compliance enforcement checks.

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Like most restaurants, Shiro Kuma Sushi had to adapt its business during the coronavirus pandemic.

"How's this going to affect our income, our livelihood, our business? Are we going to survive?" said Sebastian Shigeyoshi.

Shigeyoshi's father owns the San Rafael restaurant and Shigeyoshi manages it. He says he appreciated when the California Alcoholic Beverage Control began allowing businesses to deliver mixed drinks, including via third party delivery apps, until recently.

"I guess there was an order picked up by Grubhub that contained alcohol that was actually meant for an ABC sting," said Shigeyoshi.

The California ABC confirms the order was placed by an undercover decoy and that the Grubhub delivery driver delivered the alcohol from Shiro Kuma Sushi to a minor without carding that minor.

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A Spokesperson for the California ABC says the agency has been conducting these "compliance checks" since April.

"We received a complaint that delivery services were not checking identifications and as a result alcohol deliveries were going to places where there were minors," said California ABC Spokesperson John Carr.

He says the California ABC has issued 214 citations to delivery drivers so far, though could not say how many of those have been prosecuted by local District Attorneys.

"We found that the compliance rate was very low and the violation rate was very high," said Carr.

According to the California ABC, if a delivery decoy operation is conducted, and a delivery person gives alcohol to a minor, the delivery person can face a misdemeanor charge of "furnishing alcohol to a minor" that can result in fines anywhere from $250 to $1,000 dollars.

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If an ABC licensed business uses a third party delivery service that delivers alcohol to a minor, then the licensed business can face disciplinary action, as was the case with Shiro Kuma Sushi.

The restaurant was given the option of a one year probation or hearing to determine the validity of the claim. Shigeyoshi says he agreed to the one year probation.

"If something happens within one year we face a 15-day suspension and potentially fines," said Shigeyoshi.

"For ABC to conduct a sting like that not just targeting myself but targeting other restaurants especially during the pandemic is wrong," he continued.

Shigeyoshi says he feels especially frustrated because when orders come in, restaurants only see the customers' first name and last initial, sometimes their phone number.

Subsequently, he says, "We took all the alcohol off any third party delivery service."

"I can't trust that every single delivery driver will ID the customer," Shigeyoshi continued.

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A spokesperson for GrubHub tells the I-TEAM a driver must make sure that alcohol is only delivered to diners who are 21 or older, present a valid ID and are not intoxicated. Otherwise, the driver is instructed to return the alcohol portion of the order to the restaurant.

"When we learn of a possible violation of this policy by a driver we fully investigate the delivery and terminate contracts for drivers that do not comply with our policies," wrote the GrubHub Spokesperson in an email.

He also wrote, "Gruhbub constantly communicates with drivers, including emails and in-app messaging, to remind them of the delivery procedures for orders containing alcohol and the possible criminal consequences if they fail to comply with our delivery standards."

While both the delivery driver and restaurant face consequences in a California ABC delivery decoy operation, the delivery app does not.

"We don't license the delivery services if we did they would be the ones held responsible but they don't have an alcoholic beverage license to sell," said Carr.

The California ABC says it prefers education over enforcement and posted industry advisories to its website in April and June. Also that it had conference calls with delivery companies.

"Me personally I didn't receive any information, my father didn't either," said Shigeyoshi.

"I think it's very unfair," he continued.

"If this happened to us I know there are other restaurants dealing with this."

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