Smithfield gives restaurants more time

Smithfield gives restaurants more time

SMITHFIELD – Five Smithfield restaurants have been given until April to be in good standing with the Rhode Island Division of Taxation before their liquor licenses are revoked or suspended. The Town Council on Tuesday heard the hardships each business has suffered during COVID-19.

While restaurants have struggled to stay afloat during closures and limited dining, the R.I. Division of Taxation continued to collect sales taxes and penalties from them. Some restaurants failed to make tax payments on time, incurring penalties and fees.

Those restaurants, including Parma Ristorante, Ichiraku Ramen and Fusion, Lola’s Lounge, Bistecca Chop House and Yamato Steakhouse of Japan, need a letter of good standing from the Division of Taxation before renewing their Smithfield liquor licenses, which expired on Dec. 1, 2020, according to Town Manager Randy Rossi.

During Tuesday night’s public hearing, the council unanimously agreed to give each restaurant until April 6 to get those letters.

“This is not to do anything harmful, it is so we’re all on the same page and so we can all make it work together,” Rossi said.

David Ashworth of Parma Ristorante said it’s been quite a ride going through the pandemic. He is now waiting on a letter of good standing from the state.

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Ashworth said he needs another four or five weeks to get everything straightened out with the state. He said Smithfield is his second home and he is confident the restaurant can get everything together by then.

“Obviously, we’re getting strangled right now. Half dining is half dining,” he said.

Leonard Mello, of Bistecca Chop House, recommended to other restaurant owners to request a tax penalty waiver for COVID-19 hardships with a form on the Division of Taxation’s website. He said all the businesses will need to pay taxes and license fees, but penalties may be waived.

Mello said Bistecca is still not open after COVID-19 stopped progress at the new restaurant, and there is also no tax liability for the same reason.

Mello said things are picking up in the restaurant industry, and he hopes to open Bistecca in the coming weeks or as soon as the spring.

Michael Mota, of Lola’s Lounge, said he is in the same boat as other restaurant owners waiting on a letter of good standing. He said his Providence-based restaurant Skyline lost about $2 million while Lola’s lost about $250,000 in revenue. In addition, Lola’s suffered significant damage from a flood caused by tenants on upper floors and is closed while it is being cleaned and rebuilt.

“I’m shocked they could even consider charging anyone penalties and interest they want to collect after forcing us to close,” Mota said.

Mota said he did not realize the time to file for a license had passed, especially after being forced to close, and he is working hard at addressing the situation.

Lola’s also needs to pass a fire inspection, and Mota asked the town for another two to three weeks to get in good standing with the town and state.

“We won’t be open during that time anyway,” he said.

Mota said the paperwork was the last thing on his plate after being hit by so many negative circumstances.

“I hope you have a good recovery and we wish you well,” said Councilor Sean Kilduff.

Council President Suzy Alba continued the hearing until the April 6 meeting to give restaurants and businesses enough time to obtain good standing with the state.

“Six weeks gives them enough time to deal with the Division of Taxation,” Councilor David Tikoian said.

Earlier in the evening, the Town Council also gave out a citation to Tony’s Pizza recognizing 45 years of operation in the town of Smithfield.

Helen Connor said 45 years is a long time, and this anniversary is a particularly sweet one due to overcoming COVID-19. She said she appreciates what the town is doing to support small businesses, and said the community is part of her family. She said that is probably why Tony’s has stayed in business so long.

“This is really very much appreciated. Thank you for you and your family,” Connor said.