Aurora’s Havana Hookah loses late-night bid, says cops blowing smoke on bad rap

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AURORA | Like the product they serve, hookah bar economics can be as ethereal as smoke.

And that can be the source of problems.

Daniel Abza sits in Havana Hookah in Aurora. Photo by Sara HertwigA simmering tussle between a South Havana Street business owner and several city officials appeared to come to a close last week after city council snuffed an appeal request for a local hookah bar to operate into the wee hours of the morning.

At the Sept. 21 general session, council unanimously decided to uphold a prior ruling from the planning commission to deny Eleni Tadesse, owner of Havana Hookah at 2222 S. Havana St., a conditional use permit for operating her business “after hours” from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tadesse has been barred from operating her smoke shop after midnight since January, when the city sent her a cease-and-desist notice for not having proper late-night permits and licenses.

A conditional use permit would be required to operate the business past midnight because it sits within 300 feet of a residential area, according to Trevor Vaughn, manager of the city’s tax and licensing division. He added that had Tadesse been granted the use permit — the application for which costs about $4,200 — she would have then needed to apply for a separate, after-hours club license, which costs about $730.

The city pointed to a slew of issues, including dozens of police interactions at the business, delinquent tax payments, and complaints from residents in the surrounding neighborhood, as reasons for the conditional use permit denial.

“Because of the history, there’s no way that a judicious person would choose to let that (behavior) continue,” said Ward IV Councilwoman Molly Markert, who has dealt with several issues at Havana Hookah since it opened in her ward in 2009.

There have been 69 calls for Aurora Police Department service at Havana Hookah since March 2013, according to city documents. Of that total, 63 calls were made between midnight and 6 a.m. Police reports of the incidents at the hookah bar detail fights, gang activity and loud music, according to city documents.

“On Friday and Saturday nights, the business acts as an ‘after hours’ club which starts to attract a massive amount of customers after 2 a.m.,” APD Sgt. Jason Paulovich wrote in a January email concerning Havana Hookah. “When the business becomes busy, fights inevitably break out amongst customers that spill out into the parking lot. On New Year’s Eve, officers responded to this address and handled a shooting in which one party was hit in the leg.”

Tadesse, however, has contended that she is not directly responsible for the ongoing problems at the business because she has not been personally overseeing its operations. She contracted two managers, Nourredine Addaj and Souhair Addaj, to oversee the establishment while she was out of the country.

Tadesse said that she has been abroad for periodic, long stints of time since 2011 when she began routinely returning to her native Ethiopia to care for her ailing father. She said he has been slowly losing his eyesight because of diabetes and needed help getting around.

“They see all of these calls from Havana Hookah, Havana Hookah, Havana Hookah, but there have been no fights inside the hookah bar,” Tadesse said. “If there were, I would take the blame, totally, because it’s my fault, completely. But there haven’t been (any fights inside the bar). I just want a chance to run my business.”

Tadesse said she didn’t know calling the police in an attempt to keep the greater plaza safe would carry negative repercussions and claimed that the reported violent incidents were largely caused by patrons of the surrounding restaurants and bars, such as Havana Café and Addis Ababa restaurant.

“It wasn’t for Havana Hookah only, it was for everybody — not just us,” she said. “We didn’t know this was going to all come back to us. We were trying to be safe.”

That’s a notion Markert disputes.

“You can’t say it’s all Havana Hookah customers, but the bars close at 2 a.m., people congregate in the front and stuff starts happening,” Markert said. “It’s not the Dry Cleaners that has people coming to pick up clothes at 2 in the morning, so you can kind of narrow it down.”

Tadesse has since terminated her subleasing agreement with both Souhair and Nourredine, who she said had allowed the hookah bar to get out of hand after the pair of managers began recruiting DJs to perform there with coordinated Facebook events. Tadesse added that she has also presented the city with details on how she will run the business going forward, including interior improvements and additional security.

“Unfortunately, she (Tadesse) made the mistake of kind of renting the place and essentially giving the business to somebody that did not follow any rules whatsoever,” Markert said. “The reality is she was out of the country and under that other person’s leadership, the place ran itself into the ground. You can’t have 63 police calls for a place that’s 300 feet from a bedroom window — it’s just not going to work.”

Regardless of who is running a business, it is the responsibility of the business owner to make sure operations stay in control and taxes are paid on time, according to Vaughn.

“She (Tadesse) did have somebody else running the business, but in the end, that doesn’t really mater because it doesn’t matter who was running it; the business owner is responsible for what happens at their property,” he said.

Vaughn added that hookah bars have been a thorny, yet growing industry in Aurora in recent years.

“Hookah in general is kind of an interesting business here in the city because it’s not a liquor business, and it can’t be by law due to (the) Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act,” he said. “It’s an alternative that can attract the 18- to 20-year-old crowd or the Islamic crowd that doesn’t drink, as it’s essentially somewhere you can go, hang out and be social.”

There are currently four hookah bars operating in Aurora, though only one is licensed to operate after-hours, according to Vaughn. He said that there are two more general business license applications for hookah bars in the pipeline, and that both are set to go before the planning commission on Oct. 14.

Going forward, Vaughn said that Tadesse can either pursue legal action against the city in district court or wait one year and re-apply for the conditional use permit, at which time Tadesse would have to pay an additional $4,200 fee.

Tadesse said she is facing eviction from the Havana Street shopping center despite still having four years remaining on her lease there. She said she has been unable to keep up with rent in recent months due to customers’ lack of interest in smoking flavored sheesha during the day.

“We tried opening earlier to survive, but nobody wants to smoke hookah that early,” Tadesse said. “When people finish eating and drinking (at night), they want to smoke and to relax before they go home. It’s like a place of meditation because in a hookah bar, people drink Red Bull, coffee and tea before they drive their cars. The nature of a hookah bar is a calm-down business.”

With a son at Smoky Hill High School and a daughter studying petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, Tadesse said she has little option but to pursue legal action.

“I spent all of my money on that place, and if I have to go to the lawyer I have to go to the lawyer, but I don’t know what my chance is,” she said. “I can’t pay four more years of the lease, so if I have to give back the key, I’ll have to file bankruptcy and that’s not good for my kids because they’ll both be in college soon — that’s why I need to fight for it.”

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Fed up
Fed up
7 years ago

to me? this is a “strange” story both in the writing and the facts. . It’s like a place of meditation because in a hookah bar, people drink Red Bull, coffee and tea before they drive their cars. The nature of a hookah bar is a calm-down business.”
Meditation while drinking red bull ? A calm down business? hummmm
gotta back molly on this one.

gofastgo
gofastgo
7 years ago

It’s a place where muslims and blacks go to pick up stupid white girls, period.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
7 years ago
Reply to  gofastgo

You again? You just hate anyone who isn’t white or straight or conservative. Makes me wonder why you stay in this country.

disqus_Nc13bJ8iDr
disqus_Nc13bJ8iDr
7 years ago

Glad2SeeItGo! Way too much trouble for our neighborhood. I have no problem with the hookah concept, and enjoyed smoking while living in Middle East. But we didn’t have parking lot fights etc. there. J. Dougherty – Ward IV

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
7 years ago

I feel for her plight. I understand she needs her business to stay open late because people don’t want to smoke earlier in the day. Granted. However, I think a little market research beforehand might have kept her from this dilemma. Being so close to a residential neighborhood, hers is just not a good location for a Hookah bar. Period. It was a bad business decision. Now I think she is going to need to either change her business or fold.