Joshua Braun, former owner of the HortiPharm medical marijuana dispensary, believes that had he gone to trial he would have beaten the 43 marijuana and money-laundering crimes he was charged with after his shop was raided in June of 2010. Among his reasons for agreeing to a plea deal, though, were to free up his wife, Dayli – who was also charged with money laundering – to run Pizza Guru, her popular upper State Street eatery.
In exchange for pleading guilty to one felony count of marijuana sales and one misdemeanor charge of money laundering, all of the charges against Dayli (and many of those against Joshua’s 11 employees) were dropped. That decision, however, has come back to haunt him as Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) is threatening to take away Pizza Guru’s beer and wine license due to a rule forbidding a license for a business-owner whose spouse has ever been found guilty of a felony.
According to Braun, on December 5, he and Dayli met with ABC District Administrator Leslie Pond who notified the couple that, without a change of ownership, their beer and wine license will be revoked. They must now decide by December 15 whether they will appeal the decision, go dry, or sell their restaurant. Pond told The Independent that Pizza Guru still has an operating beer and wine license and that he could not say any more publicly about the business. Should they decide to sell, said Braun, they would have 180 days to find a buyer during which time they could sell beer and wine.
Matt Olufs of Compass First business consultancy said that ABC’s job is to promote small business while protecting the public from irresponsible sales of alcoholic beverages. He described Leslie Pond as a “straight shooter.”
Braun also doesn’t think that ABC is trying to stick it to him, but he does pick up on the Kafkaesque nature of his situation. In trying to save his wife’s business from the ramifications of running a medical marijuana dispensary — that he took pains to clear with local authorities before the raid — he actually harmed it. Moreover, ABC regulations preclude Dayli from selling to a blood relative. (Her mother has expressed interest in taking ownership.)
Braun also wonders if ABC was tipped off. “I still blame the city and county for a lot of what happened to me,” he said. “It should be between me and the county. It keeps coming up. I never lied on my application. It was very transparent. I never tried to hide what I did.”
Von Nguyen, the Deputy District Attorney who prosecuted Braun, said, “In response to an inquiry by the ABC as to the status of Mr. Braun’s case, I advised the ABC of Mr. Braun’s conviction.”
Braun does admit that when he and Dayli decided that Pizza Guru would be run under the latter’s name, they forgot to remove Josh from their type 12 beer and wine license — not that it would matter. According to Title 4, Rule 58 of the California Code of Regulations, a license holder’s spouse must meet the same qualifications as the license holder.
Pizza Guru — which sources local, organic ingredients — is a burgeoning business. When Dayli bought the restaurant at 3534 State Street in 2008, it was bringing in about $125,000 of revenue. Now, said Braun, they estimate this year’s revenue will total over $700,000. “It’s a small family-owned business that is succeeding right now, paying its bills, hiring employees, continuing to grow,” said Braun.
According to him, alcoholic beverages account for only 12 percent of Pizza Guru’s sales, but it is a indispensable accompaniment to pizza pie. Furthermore, Pizza Guru is likely the only place in town where those with celiac disease can wash down a gluten-free pizza with a gluten-free beer. It is typical, said Braun, for customers to tell him, “I haven’t had pizza and beer for five years.”
When he and Dayli met Pond at the regional ABC office in Ventura, said Braun, they were totally blindsided. “My wife was in tears. We had our six-week old baby with us.”
Braun said he has even considered divorce, but for now it looks like the couple will remain happily married. Although they still aren’t sure how they will proceed, they are looking into the possibility of starting a franchise which would allow them to maintain creative control of Pizza Guru without owning any actual restaurants.