Considering A Dram Shop Lawsuit Against Mellow Mushroom? We Have Some Important Information for You
My firm has sued more negligent alcohol providers than anyone else in Texas. In addition to allowing me the privilege of helping so many victims over the years, taking on these cases has opened my eyes to just how widespread over-service by bars and restaurants is in our state. In the interest of helping the public understand that for themselves, I sometimes take some time out of my schedule to examine the complaint files of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and report my findings. If you would like to discuss a possible Dram Shop case, please call me at (855) 326-0000.
Mellow Mushroom is a small but highly-praised pizza chain, known for its inventive topping combinations and festive tie-dyed decor. Begun as a single pizzeria in Atlanta in 1974, the chain has expanded to over 150 nationwide franchise locations.
Mellow Mushroom is also well-known for its robust beer selection; many locations have upwards of 30 active beer taps and another 40 to 50 varieties available by the bottle. Overall the restaurants are considered great places to unwind with friends and enjoy an epicurean pizza experience--a far cry from a stop at a bigger pizza chain like Papa John's or Pizza Hut.
Although pizza is perhaps the perfect food, this is not an advertisement for Mellow Mushroom. One of the drawbacks of being well-known for a diverse beer offering is that some people overindulge in the variety. Alcohol service almost invariably means eventual trouble with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), be it for improper advertising practices or something more serious like over-serving an intoxicated person.
TABC records indicate that the agency has been contacted with complaints about Mellow Mushroom locations in Texas four times since the start of 2016.
Note: Investigations are not guarantees of guilt. Just because a complaint was filed does not mean that Mellow Mushroom actually violated alcohol-service laws. However, even if sufficient evidence of a violation is not found, that doesn't necessarily mean the bar is innocent--only that the allegation couldn't be proven. In order to make any claims stick, investigators have to find irrefutable evidence that there was a violation of Texas dram shop law. Due to the nature of the offenses, that proof can be difficult to find. All we're doing here is relaying publicly-available information about incidents where the TABC has investigated Mellow Mushroom for possible criminal or administrative violations.
TABC Investigations of Mellow Mushroom Since 2016
Mansfield - 101 S Main Street
7/28/2016: According to a report made to the TABC by a local citizen, this location allegedly sold or served alcohol to an already-intoxicated person. Additionally, the complaint alleges that the restaurant served alcohol to a minor and also sold or served alcohol during prohibited hours.
The open TABC investigation lasted only five days according to the report, suggesting that the citizen was able to offer compelling evidence of at least a portion of the allegations. Officers seem to have found proof that Mellow Mushroom served alcohol to one or more people under the age of 21.
"Serving a Minor" can mean different things; sometimes a bartender may fail to check the ID of an older-looking teen, and other times a server may slip an underage buddy a drink he can't legally have. The law doesn't distinguish these circumstances, nor does the TABC complaint form specify how the service took place.
The agency recognized the service in both a criminal and an administrative sense when it came to punishment. For the criminal offense, the TABC complaint says they issued a warning, though it is unclear if the write-up was given to the restaurant or to a particular offending server. The administrative penalty seems to have involved a civil penalty, most likely a fine. Repeated offenses of a similar nature would have gotten the location's liquor license suspended or possibly even cancelled.
With these penalties on the books, the TABC closed the complaint on 8/02/2016.
Rockwall - 550 I-30 East
This location of Mellow Mushroom appears to have closed permanently.
5/01/2017: A concerned citizen informed the TABC that an employee of Mellow Mushroom (called a "Licensee/Permittee" by the TABC's official complaint form) was allegedly intoxicated during the course of business.
The TABC investigated the citizen's claims. According to the complaint report, agents were unable to find sufficient evidence of the alleged violation to hold Mellow Mushroom accountable for it. Since it was unable to prove that any staff members were intoxicated, the TABC closed the complaint without further action on 7/01/2017.
Round Rock - 2600 IH 35 North
2/01/2016: A Round Rock citizen complained to the TABC that this location allegedly engaged in some form of prohibited business practice. We are unable to be more specific than that because the agency's complaint form lists the type of violation only as "Place or Manner, Misc." This category covers a pretty broad cross-section of offenses, including on-site gambling and health code violations.
Whichever supposed offense may have triggered the citizen's initial complaint, TABC officers do not appear to have found enough evidence of that or any other violation during the course of their investigation. The complaint was closed without further action on 3/30/2016.
San Antonio - 115 Loop 1604 East North, Ste 2100
7/02/2018: In a somewhat rarer allegation, a source marked by the the TABC as "Other" accused this Mellow Mushroom location of failing to pay local taxes or fees as required by the city of San Antonio.
People may generally consider the TABC like Elliot Ness's squad of Untouchables, smashing barrels of whiskey and wreaking havoc on alcohol sellers with fedoras and hot lead. While it's possible some TABC officers join up believing this is the life they'll lead, much of their work is simply administrative as they do their best to keep purveyors of alcohol in line. Among their tasks is making sure that all applicable fees and taxes are paid by these vendors so they may retain their licenses and permits. Not every violation committed by a bar involves serving minors or drunken brawls. Heck, even the Untouchables actually got their man because he didn't pay his taxes.
TABC officers investigated the allegations of "Failure to Pay Local Fees/Taxes," and it looks like they were able to confirm that some form of owed fee wasn't paid as it should be. Given its fairly sparse rap sheet with the TABC, it doesn't seem the agency was in a hurry to viciously punish Mellow Mushroom. The agency issued the restaurant a written warning and closed the complaint on 7/10/2018, just a few short days after the file was opened in the first place.
Texas Law Allows Victims of Over-service to Sue Negligent Providers
If this article has inspired you to want to learn more about Texas Dram Shop/liquor liability law, I encourage you to take a look at our comprehensive guide to the subject.