The Oregon Liquor Control Commission
completed a brief probe into New Seasons Markets' liquor license last week, following mayoral candidate Eileen Brady
and her husband, former New Seasons
CEO Brian Rohter's, explanation of Brady's role in the company's founding.
Brady's claim to be a "founding co-owner" of New Seasons, the popular 12-store chain, is central to her campaign narrative. Last week, for example, Brady appeared at an informal Q&A session at McMenamins Tavern & Pool
on Northwest 23rd Avenue and repeatedly cited her experience as a New Season's "founder" to bolster her credentials for the mayor's job.
But state's liquor control agency wanted to know more about her claims.
"We did an investigation
already based on the story
that appeared in Willamette Week
," says OLCC spokeswoman Christy Scott.
The issue for the OLCC, Scott says, was Rohter's explanation to WW
that he did not list Brady on the OLCC license application in order to shield her from liability.
Rohter explained the decision this way in a Jan. 16 interview:
"It is common when a family starts a business for one member of the couple to accept 100 percent of the liability, especially if personal guarantees are involved," Rohter said. "So if the company crashes and burns, they will still have some semblance of credit left."
But Scott says that interpretation is contrary to OLCC rules.
The agency wants anybody who is an owner and who is making operational decisions for a licensed establishment—as Brady and Rohter say Brady did in New Seasons' early days—to be licensed.
"Generally speaking, If person is making major business decisions, that would be a licensable interest," Scott says. "If somebody has a licensable interest, i.e. is an owner, we would want to have them on the license."
Scott says in response to Rohter's remarks, OLCC staff pulled their New Seasons files from 2000 (when the company began operations) to see what they could determine about her role.
"We would have wanted anyone who was an owner to be on the license but based on what's in our files about 2000, there was no reason for us to think she needed to be on the license," Scott says. "At this point, we can’t substantiate that she had a licensable interest as an owner."
Scott says the agency does not plan any disciplinary action
. "There is no retroactive punishment because we can’t prove that she was owner," she says.
OLCC staff also reviewed New Seasons' current license. Relative to Brady, the license appears to be in order, Scott says, because Brady no longer claims any operating role and Rohter's stake is less than one percent folllowing a 2010 sale of the company to the private equity firm Endeavor Capital.Intern Heidi Groover contributed to this story.