If You're Considering A Dram Shop Lawsuit Against Chuy's, There Are A Few Things You Should Know
Because my firm has filed more suits against more negligent bars and restaurants than anyone else in Texas, I've become all too aware of just how extensive this irresponsible behavior is. But I suspect not everyone has the same level of awareness, which is why I try to do everything I can to increase the public's understanding. As part of that effort, I occasionally take a look at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's files and share what I find with our readers. If you would like to talk about a potential dram shop case, call me at (855) 326-0000.
Chuy's Tex-Mex was founded in Austin in 1982 by locals Mike Young and John Zapp. Since its inception in a small abandoned barbecue shack, it has spread to 97 restaurants in 19 states, with seven more locations in development. Known for its bright colors, festive atmosphere, and taste for Elvis-themed kitsch, the chain and its diverse menu has a devoted following, demonstrated by a 2017 revenue of almost $100 million. The Tex-Mex market is pretty crowded (especially in the Lone Star State itself), but Chuy's seems to have carved out a comfortable spot.
Of course, it's not all tacos and profits. Chuy's Texas locations have been investigated by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) twelve times over the last nine years. The agency lists violations ranging from inappropriate advertising to serving alcohol to minors.
Just because a Chuy's location was investigated, it doesn't mean that location is known for violating TABC code. On the flip side, if investigators determine that the location isn't in violation of TABC code, that does not necessarily mean that the alleged violation did not take place. Sometimes there just isn't enough evidence of a criminal or administrative violation to make an allegation stick, and publishing this information isn't meant to suggest wrongdoing on the part of staff at any Chuy's. All we're doing here is reporting the locations that showed up on the TABC's radar for one reason or another, due to complaints from concerned citizens and law enforcement agencies.
Chuy's Locations that Have Been Investigated by the TABC Since 2009
Arlington - 4001 Bagpiper Way, Ste 199
On May 21, 2014, a citizen filed a complaint with the TABC that this Chuy's location sold or served alcohol to a minor, as well as possibly over-serving an intoxicated individual. The report is not clear as to whether the two infractions overlap (i.e. whether the minor was the intoxicated party who was over-served), but whether that was the case or not, these are serious allegations.
According to TABC records the complaint was closed two months later after some investigation. Records indicate no official measures were taken against the location, suggesting that not enough evidence was found to confirm either allegation.
Addison - 4440 Belt Line Road
On August 10, 2016, the TABC received a complaint that an already-intoxicated person was still being served. In a busy and festive atmosphere like the one Chuy's fosters, it is possible that a patron could have continued to receive service after he or she should have been cut off, but it's important to note that these are just allegations made by a citizen at the time.
After a month and a half, the complaint was closed without any action taken against the restaurant. It's unclear whether there was just a lack of evidence or if the original complaint was found to be false.
Fort Worth - 9700 North Fwy
On June 7, 2016, a citizen reported this location to the TABC on the suspicion that one of the employees was working while intoxicated. The official infraction is "Intoxicated Licensee/Permittee," but it basically means someone on the staff appeared to be drunk while going about their duties.
This violation might not result in as dire of a consequence as over-serving a patron and allowing them to drive, but if the allegations can be proven, it's still against the rules. Chuy's probably would have faced a fine if the patron's suspicions had been confirmed, but investigators were unable to find any evidence that a member of the staff was intoxicated as alleged by the complaint. No action was taken.
Houston - 2706 Westheimer Road
On October 13, 2014, a citizen reported the Houston Chuy's for inappropriate outdoor advertising.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code has some strong prohibitions against certain kinds of advertising for alcoholic beverages and the places that sell or pour them. That might be a little hard to believe considering the number of liquor billboards we pass every day on the highway, but chapter 108 of the Code is all about exactly where, when, and how alcohol promotion can take place.
Whatever the civilian saw at the time of complaint it must have rubbed them the wrong way, so the TABC dutifully logged the complaint and investigated the possibility that Chuy's was unlawfully advertising. Their investigation didn't turn up anything they felt merited action, and the investigation was closed shortly after.
The same Houston Chuy's received a different complaint in June of 2009 when a citizen reported prohibited behavior on the restaurant's premises. The infraction was listed on the official TABC report with the maddeningly-vague "Place or Manner, Misc." This category is defined by activities on the premises that shouldn't be taking place as a part of standard business. It's mostly secret back-room shenanigans like gambling or prostitution. I have a hard time picturing Chuy's running a clandestine casino out of the mop closet, so I'd guess it had more to do with some other item on the "Place or Manner" complaint list, like obscenity or a violation of city health codes.
Lubbock - 4805 S Loop 289 Suite 300
On June 27, 2013, this Chuy's location was reported by a citizen for serving alcohol to a minor.
As I said before, it's unsettling to see how the bulk of the complaints against this chain involve serving minors. The TABC complaint reports don't go into the finer details of each event, so it's possible some were just misunderstandings, but it's hard to believe all the allegations could be groundless.
whether or not the event in question took place, investigators didn't find any evidence that a minor was given or sold alcohol on the premises. The investigation was closed with no action taken against the location.
Round Rock - 2320 Ih 35 North
A civilian reported this Chuy's' staff to the TABC for allegedly serving alcohol to a minor. Obviously different locations separated by hundreds of miles don't really have any influence on one another, but it's odd how many reports involving the same allegations seem to have come through over the years. So many reports of minors being fed alcohol in this particular restaurant chain suggests there's potential to improve training.
Investigators looked into the allegations, but didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing and closed the file shortly after with no action taken.
San Antonio - 18008 Hwy 281 North
On April 26, 2011, a law enforcement agency reported this Chuy's location for selling/serving alcohol to an intoxicated party. The TABC report suggests that the agency opened a source investigation, meaning that TABC investigators wanted to find the source of the alcohol consumed by a party who then got in a serious accident or had a DWI violation. Source investigations are often started after input from law enforcement, but the TABC also independently reviews traffic reports and news releases for information about drunk driving incidents.
After an investigation that lasted roughly 5 months, the TABC closed the file without taking any further action.
San Antonio - 15639 Interstate 10 West
On December 6, 2016, a patron at this Chuy's location alleged that the staff dispensed alcohol to an underage party. Investigators were unable to locate any evidence this happened, and closed the investigation about a month later.
In many cases the most an agency can do is make an earnest attempt to look into a civilian complaint. This is true of many investigatory bodies--anything from the FBI to your local health inspector. Good-faith efforts are made to validate someone's claims, but a minor being allowed to drink doesn't always leave much of a trail for investigators to follow. Bars are supposed to be stopping that before it happens, not banking on a lack of evidence to help them avoid punishment later.
Sugar Land - 320 Hwy 6
On April 27, 2016, a patron at the Sugar Land Chuy's sent the TABC a report with allegations of "refilling," which is the practice of re-using a liquor bottle by refilling either with the same or a different liquid.
As infractions go, refilling seems pretty innocuous compared to serving minors or intoxicated people. It's just against the rules to re-use empty liquor bottles for any serving purpose in a bar or restaurant, so even trying to re-use fancy bottles for water carafes is a no-no. In and of itself, though, it's more tacky and dishonest than harmful.
With that said, the practice is well-known to be unlawful. A place that allegedly was comfortable with swindling its customers in this manner might be okay with other more serious infractions. Regardless, investigators didn't uncover the source of the alcohol and they closed their investigation a few months later.
Tyler - 5935 S Broadway
On November 16, 2011, a citizen complaint alleged that staff had served alcohol to a minor. TABC agents were unable to locate any evidence that the infraction took place and closed their investigation roughly one month after receiving the complaint. No action was taken against the location.
Webster - 20975 Gulf Freeway
On November 3, 2017, a citizen reported to the TABC that this Chuy's location sold or otherwise served alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Serving a minor is a serious offense and is generally punished by the TABC with a stiff fine.
The report was closed on January 3, 2018, as TABC investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to proceed with charges. No action was taken against the location.
So there you have it. Chuy's isn't the worst offender out there in terms of TABC violations, though the sum of their complaints suggests maybe their staff could use a refresher on checking ID's before pouring drinks. No one should operate under the idea that as long as they do most of what's required of them that the rest can slide.