26620 Old 41 Rd, Bonita Springs, FL
BONITA SPRINGS — The dinner crowd is back at Buffalo Chips in Bonita Springs, but the wait for a reinstated alcohol license continues.
Four days after Lee County deputies raided the restaurant and arrested four of its employees on allegations they sold drugs during business hours, manager Chip Greenwood said customer numbers are back to normal and he can see a path toward regaining the license, which was suspended during the bust.
"We're in the process now," he said. "I've been faxing and copying and e-mailing, and we're doing what we have to do to get it back."
A hearing before a state officer could come as soon as Wednesday, he said.
On Monday, Greenwood fired the four employees arrested in the raid. The men, two cooks, a kitchen manager and a bartender, were all charged on multiple allegations of possessing and selling marijuana and cocaine.
"They'll never work here again," Greenwood said.
The state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco cited the deals -- 14 over a period of six weeks -- when it filed the emergency suspension order. Management of the restaurant "fostered, condoned, and/or negligently overlooked" their employees' actions, agents concluded.
Restaurant management has 21 days from the date of the suspension to respond to the allegations, many of which it disputes. Greenwood declined to discuss the path the restaurant would take but he said terminating the employees was one step in that direction.
On Monday, the manager sounded upbeat when asked about the aftermath of the raid. Longtime patrons and friends flooded the restaurant in the days following, he said, and business came back fast. He called it an "It's a Wonderful Life" moment, similar to the final scene of the classic movie.
Coolers once filled with beer now hold root beer, he said, and non-alcoholic drinks are going fast. Still, Greenwood would prefer the real thing come next Wednesday, when crowds head to their local bars to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
"You've gotta have a green beer with your corned beef and cabbage," Greenwood said.