Button Down Bar in Salt Lake City sues DABC

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control). The owner of a Salt Lake City bar is suing the DABC.

A Salt Lake City bar owner is suing the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for taking away its liquor license.

John Vecchi, the owner of Button Down Bar, 122 W. Pierpont Ave.. says in his 3rd District Court lawsuit that the DABC liquor commission used “false allegations” when it voted last week to forfeit his bar license.

The seven-member board took the action after it determined that Vecchi failed to provide the DABC information about potential ownership changes to Button Down’s parent company, T&J Jazz Holdings Inc.

Under state law, business owners who have a state liquor license must immediately notify the DABC regarding changes in ownership. Failure to do so can result in either a suspension, forfeiture or revocation of the license.

In his lawsuit, Vecchi argues that business owners are required to give the DABC only names of majority stockholders. “There is no requirement by statute or DABC rules, requiring disclosure to DABC of any stockholders owning less than 20% of the outstanding stock of any corporation."

Vecchi says he is the only person who owns more than 11% of T&J Jazz Holdings.

He is asking for the bar license to be reinstated so he can continue to operate until the issue can be resolved. If the bar “is unable to regain its liquor license in short order," the lawsuit states, “it will be unable to meet its obligation and go out of business.”

Complicating the dispute is a shortage of bar licenses in Utah. Once Button Down’s license was forfeited, it was immediately given to another business. No new bar licenses will be available in November or December, and only three bar permits are expected to become available before July 2020, when new state population information is available.

DABC spokesman Terry Wood said the department “cannot comment in regard to ongoing litigation."

During the past 18 months, however, the agency learned of possible ownership changes at Button Down — formerly Avant Groove — that put the license in question, according to a DABC “order to show cause” statement.

In the summer of 2018, a third party paid $70,000 to cover back rent at Button Down, the document states, “but it has not been made clear what the party received in exchange."

In December 2018, a manager agreed to pay $150,000 to buy the business, the DABC document states. Additionally, the agency had reason to believe that “Vecchi entered into an agreement with several parties to change more than 51% of the ownership of Button Down.”

The DABC has requested information from Vecchi to resolve the concerns, but to date, “this requested information has not been received.”