Valentine’s Day brought an unwelcome gift to George and Gillis Poll: The prolific restaurateurs learned that the liquor license for their Manhasset restaurant, Toku Modern Asian, was being suspended by the New York State Liquor Authority — for the second time.
According to the SLA, investigators on Feb. 12 "observed 175 patrons crowded inside the premises, over two times the maximum occupancy under COVID-related regulations."
The brothers dispute the charges. "They counted 175 people on Friday night," Gillis Poll said, "but that was including employees. We now have security guards to make sure people are wearing masks. The truth is we were about 24 people over at the time — with people leaving and coming in."
George Poll added, "they make us look like we have no respect, no concern for safety. We have installed MERV filters and UV lights and are doing everything we can." He noted that the charges put their business in a bind; having to pay rent and the staff without the benefit of liquor sales until the matter is resolved. "The more you defend yourself," Poll said, the longer the license remains suspended.
Toku, located at the Americana Manhasset shopping center, was first charged by the SLA on Sept. 12; the brothers paid a $25,000 fine to have the license reinstated a few weeks later.
The Poll brothers dominate Nassau’s North Shore dining scene with Toku and Cipollini in Manhasset, Bryant & Cooper and Hendrick’s Tavern in Roslyn, Bar Frites in Greenvale and Major’s in East Meadow. In 2018 they opened The Bryant in South Huntington.
"My brother and I have held liquor licenses since 1980," George Poll said. "We respect them and our customers."
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the SLA’s "multiagency task force" has had the primary responsibility for policing venues’ adherence to regulations such as social distancing, limited capacity and mask wearing. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office announced that 23 bars’ and restaurants’ licenses had been suspended in February "for egregious violations of coronavirus-related regulations" and that 393 licenses had been suspended in total since the pandemic began. Among the most recent suspensions were Toku, The Big Kahuna in Huntington, Liam's Landing in Amityville, Savino’s Hideaway in Mount Sinai and Spiro’s Lounge & Restaurant in Rocky Point. Robke’s in Northport had its license suspended on Jan. 24, and it was reinstated Feb. 11.