Panda Cafe restaurant and bar | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Village prosecutor Sharon O’Shea and Weijun “John” Zhou, owner of Panda Café, 7600 Madison St. reached a settlement after the restaurant and bar was cited for staying open and serving liquor after hours, and for having a DJ at an event without obtaining a village entertainment license. 

Panda Café was originally cited for two instances of staying open and serving alcohol after 1 a.m. – the current cutoff for establishments with liquor licenses – but one of the citations was dropped. They were later cited for the entertainment license issue.  On March 10, Mayor Rory Hoskins, acting in his capacity as the village liquor commissioner, issued a Notice of Emergency closure. The hearing on the citations was originally scheduled for April 12, but the emergency closure pushed it up to the morning of March 17.

Building owner Jack Zayed, who helped Zhou with translation, said it was an honest mistake. Until May 16, 2021, the cutoff time was 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends, and Zayed said they simply never realized the change happened. Zayed and Zhou were provided with the current version of the liquor code, and they agreed that Panda Café will abide by the rules going forward.

In May 2021, the village council curtailed closing time for bars, including Class A liquor license holders such as Panda Café,  to 11 p.m. This came in response to rising concerns about rowdy crowds at Madison Street bars. The concerns also led the village to enforce an ordinance requiring any businesses that hold events to apply for amusement licenses (later renamed entertainment licenses to avoid confusion with the similarly named public place of amusement licenses), and while the council took a very hands-on role in approving the licenses, the commissioners agreed on Oct. 24 to delegate that authority to village administrators. 

On Sept. 6, 2021, the cutoff was extended to 1 a.m. for most liquor license holders, include Class A license holders. 

On Feb. 27, Panda Café was cited for staying open and serving liquor at 1:26 a.m., and on March 5 for being open at 1:05 a.m. During the March 17 hearing, O’Shea said the latter citation was a “misunderstanding,” and the village dropped it.

She said that, as was the case with Foundry FP event space, 7503 Madison St. on Nov. 3, they didn’t want to penalize the first-time violators too harshly, but they also wanted to nip any potential issues in the bud before they escalated. Under the terms of the settlement, Zhou will pay the fine, and the closure order was lifted effective March 17 at 4 p.m.

Village attorney Steve Hinton, who presided over the hearing, accepted the settlement.

“We don’t expect [to see] any more misunderstandings,” he said.

Panda Café opened on Nov. 19, 2019. It has been one of the longest-lasting businesses in this location since 2009. Before that, 7600 Madison St. went through six restaurants that stayed open an average of 1-2 years. The previous decade saw considerable turnover as well. Since the decades long days of the 24-hour Venture Restaurant, it has housed Ambrosia Café, Bistro Marbuzet, Madison Street Grill and Rocco’s.