Whynot Coffee on Orchard Street Loses Its Wine-Beer License in SLA Ruling

Posted on: June 4th, 2015 at 5:00 am by

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Whynot Coffee sustained a deadly blow in early May when the State Liquor Authority officially terminated its wine and beer license at 175 Orchard Street. The board unanimously stonewalled owner Emil Stepkov and his counsel (Donald Bernstein) for duping the community over its half-baked “art” concept. And for the LES Dwellers, it’s another storied victory, the second on this battered block of Orchard in as many months (i.e. Sixth Ward).

The “art-driven” coffee shop had appeared before the legal panel as part of a disciplinary hearing on various violations. Namely, ignoring the binding stipulations and changing the method of operation. Cited infractions included live music, dancers (Whynot doesn’t possess cabaret license), and loud music pumping past agreed-upon 10pm limit. Stepkov acknowledged that the “art wasn’t selling” (only two exhibitions in a year) and that there was “no point [selling it] anymore.” Given that this was the premise on which Whynot was founded, the SLA wasn’t pleased with being kept in the dark. And they made that fact known.

In the end, the SLA called bullshit, and decided to punish the problem child by canceling the wine-beer license at 175 Orchard Street. The measure is a lesser of two evils, so to speak. Stepkov can still apply for liquor at a different establishment; if it had been revocation, there’s a 3-year penalty period. Meanwhile, the license is now listed as “inactive” in the SLA database.

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The hot-under-the-collar Bernstein, for his part, went berserk over the judgement, calling the action excessive and outlining the reasoning. He was quickly cut off by one of the SLA lawyers who told him to fuck off in as many words – “Tell me about it in your Article 78 filing (an appeal of a state decision).”

“It was pretty clear from the beginnig what [Stepkov’s ] intentions were, LES Dwellers co-founder Diem Boyd tells us. “It was to open another late night bar with DJs and music. The disingeniuos art front was exposed, and Hell Square dodged a bullet.”

“The cancelation of Whynot’s license was the result of residents saying something and doing something. This is what we are about; empowering residents to stand up to law breaking operators and ensuring law breaking operators are held to the full extent of the law.”

The irony in all this drama is that Stepkov built a business banking on the liquor license, but created a popular coffee shop instead. Whynot just leave it at that, expand the menu and increase the daytime foot traffic that the area needs? That’s the real public benefit.

Needless to say, Whynot remains in business as its name implies. Coffee. No alcohol. And probably no transformation to that suspect Sushi Wa concept, which netted Community Board 3 approval under the same strict stipulation.

However, at this point, all credibility with Stepkov seems lost at this point.

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