Richmond County sheriff officers descended upon Southbound Smokehouse, located at 1855 Central Ave., late Thursday, June 10, emptying the restaurant of patrons and issuing a citation to the owners for operating an illegal dance hall and for serving underage minors. Manager Sloan Baughman was cited for No Dance Hall License and Furnishing Alcohol to persons under 21.
Co-owner Brian Brittingham said he is mystified that enough police officers to constitute a SWAT team showed up at his restaurant and closed it down because people were dancing.
According to Brittingham, a vice officer with RCSO told him that his unit had sent an undercover officer in about an hour before the raid to verify people were dancing on the premises. The officer stated that if more than 15 people are dancing in an establishment that is licensed as a restaurant, then it is no longer considered a restaurant, but rather a dance hall.
“He literally told me that I need to go around and tell people to sit down if I want to remain open,” Brittingham said.
Brittingham was not at the establishment when the raid occurred, but his manager reported to him that when officers stormed the building, they would not allow anyone — including employees — to leave the building without first showing an ID.
According to Brittingham, several minors were in the building but there was no proof they had been drinking alcohol served by a bartender, as IDs were checked at the door by police as people exited the building and the manager said no one had a drink in their hand by that time.
“I think there were about 10 people who were underage in the building and there is nothing illegal about that. Our staff members are trained to verify an ID before a drink is put in front of anyone,” Brittingham said.
Southbound Smokehouse has been in operation for six years and Brittingham said they have always featured either live music or a DJ and it has never been a problem until now.
According to city codes, a restaurant must prove they sell at least 50% food to be considered a restaurant and not a bar. The code does not have provisions to determine what other legal actions are allowed or prohibited inside of said restaurant.
Brittingham said that his kitchen remains open until the restaurant closes, so food can be ordered there until late into the night.
“If you want to order food at midnight, we will cook it for you,” Brittingham said.
Requests for information to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office pertaining to the raid remained unanswered by time of publication.
Brittingham said that he wants to work with the city as he and his partners operate five different hospitality sites throughout Augusta and North Augusta, including a new raw bar that opened this past week at SRP Park in North Augusta.
“I want to make sure that we are following the law to a tee and I admit we have had some noise complaints recently and we are working on that. But come on, a raid over dancing? It sounds like something out of Footloose,” Brittingham said.