SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners approved a license transfer for an Ocean Pines restaurant this week despite concerns about the applicants’ finances.
In a hearing that was continued from December, the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) approved a request to transfer the beer, wine and liquor license for Whiskers Bar and Grill this week. The approval came after questions regarding the applicants’ connections to Basel Ramadan, a West Ocean City resident who plead guilty in 2019 to a felony charge related to a cigarette trafficking ring.
“My concern is we’re not falling for a Sal Ramadan new business under the guise his wife and daughter are running it,” said attorney Dirk Widdowson, representing the nearby Rita’s World of Beer and Wine.
Though the BLC initially met to consider the request to transfer the Whiskers license from AJK Restaurant Inc. to Ocean Pines Spirits Inc. in December, that hearing was continued in order to give the applicants, Shereen Ramadan and Dina Sbih, a chance to provide additional financial documentation. They provided tax returns and financial statements in advance of Wednesday’s meeting. Attorney Pete Cosby, representing Ramadan and Sbih, said one of the restaurant’s current employees, Tanya Knott, would be staying on another two to three months in a consultant role to help the bar’s new owners.
After a few questions regarding the restaurant’s layout, which BLC members said should not be changed, Widdowson brought up his client’s concerns. He said he didn’t want to see Whiskers changed from a restaurant that had a retail component to a primarily retail operation. Board members assured him that was not under consideration.
“We are not approving a retail outlet. We’re approving a restaurant transfer,” said William Esham, BLC chairman.
Widdowson also questioned the source of the $125,000 being used to purchase Whiskers. Ramadan said she’d given the current owners a cash loan previously that would reduce the purchase amount and that she was getting a $100,000 bank loan to cover the bulk of the cost.
Widdowson read from the state code regarding how an applicant’s license should be denied if they were not fit, made false statements or acted fraudulently in connection with their application. He said the applicants had already violated rules and he was “very concerned” about the financial interests of another person, particularly since the first two checks given to the BLC for the application process were from Basel Salah Ramadan.
“I don’t want us to allow someone who is ineligible to hold a license to go through the back door to do what he cannot do through the front door,” Widdowson said.
Cosby said his clients understood the rules.
“They understand Sal Ramadan cannot be involved in this,” he said.
The board, stressing again that Whiskers was a restaurant not a retail store, approved the license transfer 3-0.
The board subsequently voted unanimously to approve a license transfer for 56th Street Beer and Wine. When asked about her experience selling beer and wine, the applicant, Zina Sbih, said that though she was 20 years old she had helped out in the store since she was 16. She added that her brother-in-law would provide her with guidance.
“He’s 25 years old so he’s way more mature than me,” she said.
When a board member asked how the BLC could grant an alcohol license to a minor, the board attorney said the applicant had to be over 18 years old.