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Cattleman’s Steak & Ale closed following liquor license dispute

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MORRISTOWN — The new operator of Cattleman’s Steak & Ale is throwing in the towel after a streak of bad luck.

The restaurant closed March 22 after the state Liquor Authority revoked its liquor license.

Then thieves broke into the shuttered building, wreaking several thousand dollars’ worth of damage.

When John G. Hagopian, formerly of Binghamton, took over management of the popular downtown restaurant from Ian F. O’Brien in September, he had a dream of creating a river-oriented restaurant and bar.

But on March 22, the Liquor Authority, responding to a tip, ruled that Mr. Hagopian illegally was using a liquor license registered under Mr. O’Brien’s name.

“When we issue a license, it’s for a specific person or location,” said William S. Crowley, a spokesman for the Liquor Authority. “It can’t be transferred to another person. They have to submit a new application.”

“There is an open investigation,” Mr. Crowley said.

Mr. Hagopian said he was in the process of filing an application for his own license.

He and Mr. O’Brien “had an operating agreement that was drawn up. I was managing until I got approved by the Liquor Authority,” Mr. Hagopian said. “Ian was the owner. I was operating it as the manager.”

Mr. Hagopian, who was leasing the building from Mahlon T. Clements, said he continued operating the restaurant under Mr. O’Brien’s Cattleman’s Steak & Ale LLC to receive shipments of alcohol but formed his own company, JGH Enterprises LLC, to receive food shipments.

“I did form my company because people didn’t want to deliver to me unless it was under my name,” Mr. Hagopian said.

“We were in the process of doing my application” for a liquor license, Mr. Hagopian said, “But we stopped the process because of the interruption” from the Liquor Authority.

Mr. Crowley said he couldn’t comment on whether Mr. Hagopian had been in the process of filing his own liquor license application.

Mr. Hagopian said that when the Liquor Authority required him to surrender the improperly used license, he decided to close the restaurant.

“It was going to take another month and a half to get the paperwork approved. We decided to just cut our losses,” he said.

Then, over the weekend of March 30, the restaurant was broken into, Mr. Hagopian said.

“I had gone away for the weekend,” he said. “On April 2nd, a Tuesday … I opened the door and I looked in and the bar chairs were toppled over. There was broken glass. I looked up; they stole my liquor, my surveillance system and ransacked the kitchen.”

Whoever broke in also stole a $5,000 projector, Mr. Hagopian said, estimating the total damage at close to $9,000.

Mr. Hagopian said state police still are investigating the break-in.

“It’s hard being in this type of business because there’s so many people in and out of here and so many people touch things,” he said. “They gained entrance to the building on the back alley where we keep the garbage.”

A spokesman for the state police said the investigation still is pending with “no leads.”

Mr. Hagopian spent Friday “doing a final cleanup.” He said he plans to turn in his key to the building next week.

“This place has got an omen to it,” he said.

Mr. Clements, the building’s owner, said he is putting the building up for sale or lease and it will be available again May 1.

Mr. Hagopian said he is moving back to Binghamton. “I’m going back to construction management with my father’s business,” he said.

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