IMAGE: maggie gardner
Last month, two inspectors with the dreaded Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Alan Espasandin and Darrin Taylor, went into business for themselves. Their new company, Statewide Compliance Training, helps bars obtain permits and avoid liquor law violations through on-call consulting and staff training for an annual fee of $500.
They say their mission is the same as OLCC's—reducing alcohol sales to minors, and to "visibly intoxicated people." But their career switch retains the flavor of a district attorney suddenly joining the public defender's office. After speaking to them last week, we concluded they're like NPR's Click and Clack, but with booze.
WW: What does your training offer that OLCC's doesn't?
DARRIN: This is training we would've liked to have done at OLCC, but there just weren't enough people. It's not just two fat guys talking to you. Let's face it: Sitting through eight hours of liquor law is boring. A lot of the stuff we've added to our program, I don't think OLCC would appreciate. It may be a little edgy. Someone might get offended. But if you can't go to work and have fun, don't go to work.
ALAN: And if you're not getting in trouble, you're not doing your job.DARRIN: We spent a lot of time in our manager's office.
Did your colleagues accuse you of going to the dark side?
DARRIN: We call it going back to the light side.
How should a bar handle a "visibly intoxicated person"? Isn't intoxication the point?
DARRIN: The old days were, "You're cut off, get out!" That's not customer service. We say, "Talk to the person, get them to the side so they're not embarrassed, and say, 'Hey, I want you to get home.'"
ALAN: We wrote tickets when we were appalled. We'd say, "I can't believe they just gave that guy more beer."
DARRIN: We had all kinds of stuff we heard: "Oh, it's his birthday, it's OK." "Oh, he tips well."
Many bar owners despise the OLCC. Is that justified?
ALAN: It's based more on what they hear than what they experience. The OLCC does not rush into a place and say, "We don't like what you're doing," and take your license off the wall. The places I saw being shut down were having a lot of violence. Shootings or stabbings. They shut themselves down.
DARRIN: OLCC is not hiding behind every plant and barstool. We go out and have a good time like anybody else.
So, you're drinkers?
ALAN: The policy is one beer in a two-hour period, and no more than three on a shift.
DARRIN: It's all smoke and mirrors. We'd pour out beer in the bathroom.
No fake mustaches?
ALAN: No, no.
DARRIN: I've heard rumors.
ALAN: There was some creativity, years back.
Is OLCC achieving its mission?
(Awkward silence.) ALAN: I think it is. I think it's too small. They need more staff. Contrary to popular belief, most of the industry itself would hate to see OLCC leave. Because they need the checks and balances. They need alcohol to be as noncompetitive as it is.
Got any good war stories?
DARRIN: Kids as young as 11 beyond intoxicated at a party.
ALAN: The dangerous situations are these big after-hours parties.
DARRIN: Now that we're not at OLCC, they'll actually tell us the truth. We were this close to one. They said, "Oh, we didn't know you guys were on to us."
ALAN: Yeah, we were.
DARRIN: Just because we're state workers doesn't mean we're stupid. It just means we're lazy.
Espasandin, 42, worked at OLCC for seven years. Taylor, 40, worked there for five years.
OLCC has 40 inspectors covering 11,000 licensees, and making an average monthly salary of $3,505. Espasandin says the most common violation they find is selling alcohol to a minor.