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Having a license to sell alcoholic beverages is an awesome responsibility.

Many business owners understand the enormity of what they’ve been given a license to do. Some don’t. We have long advocated that those who give the impression that they either don’t fully understand or don’t care about those responsibilities should be dealt with swiftly and severely. In some cases, that should be meaningful fines. In others, it should mean the privilege to sell alcoholic beverages should be taken away, at least temporarily. In others, it means the license should be taken away permanently.

And then there are cases such as the one involving La Cucina in Havre de Grace that was heard last week before the Harford County Liquor Control Board.

The pain was palpable in the words of Gino Coppola, who with his family owns the restaurant in downtown Havre de Grace, when he faced the liquor board. Among his comments:

“It was a very, very bad night.”

“We have signs everywhere. No ID. No service.”

“Even if you’re my mother, we card them.”

“There’s no sense in selling one stupid beer for $3-$4 then spend all day in here … hire a lawyer.”

All of those things are true. And it doesn’t sound as if Coppola doesn’t get it. He does. In his business, he and his family have to trust others to do the right thing, to make sure they don’t sell alcoholic beverages to those who are not old enough to buy them. In this case, according to what transpired at last week’s meeting, an employee simply forgot to ask the 19-year-old underage police cadet for a proof of age.

That mistake, in part, cost the Coppola family a $1,000 fine because they were fined $500 for a similar violation in March 2007. There’s no excuse for running afoul of the law against selling alcoholic beverages to those too young to legally buy them, but there are, at times, understandable reasons for how it could’ve happened.

This appears to be one of those instances, but the liquor board did the right thing fining La Cucina’s owners, even though it appears an employee made an honest mistake and, more importantly, the restaurant doesn’t seem to be a place underage people routinely go to buy alcoholic beverages.

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