Gwendolyn Wu and Shomik Mukherjee
Executive Content Editor and Executive Managing Editor
At 9 p.m. last Saturday night, the usual Isla Vistan activities were in full swing. Students crowded into popular bars and restaurants in town, clamoring for pitchers at local favorites like Giovanni’s Pizza on Pardall Rd.
When one group of friends set foot in a crowded Gio’s that night, they intended to get beer. One student, Oscar Zarate, says he showed his Mexican government-issued identification and was turned down. Another, Stephanie Periban, said she was rejected after showing her employment authorization document. The group further claimed they were harassed by fellow patrons and later removed from the restaurant by Gio’s employees.
Rosemary Moll, the manager who dealt with the group, said Monday that she was unfamiliar with the IDs and wanted to protect the restaurant’s liquor license, denying any racial motivations.
“She saw it and she was like, ‘you know, you really need a passport with this,’” Zarate, a fourth year political science major, told The Bottom Line on Sunday. He had shown his Mexican ID that night.
“She wanted extra documentation,” Zarate said. “From the beginning, she really was not into the Mexican ID. She was not going to accept it.” Zarate finally got a cup for beer when he showed an expired California ID.
Periban, a fourth year sociology major, then tried to get her own cup of beer with her EAD card, but was turned down. EAD cards are provided to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration immigration policy that allows undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors to receive work permits.
Briana Bui, a fourth year global studies and environmental studies double major who was with Zarate and Periban that night, recounted what she had witnessed to The Bottom Line.
“Five minutes later, my German boyfriend arrived and offered his German driver’s license which was not in English and didn’t even have an expiration date, which she accepted immediately without hassle,” Bui wrote in a Facebook message.
After seeing their friend get a cup, Periban went back to the counter to try again. She said the woman behind the counter accused her of having an “attitude.”
“That’s so insulting,” Zarate told The Bottom Line on Sunday. “Whenever a person of color wants to defend their rights for equality, they’re told, ‘hey, you have an attitude.’”
Fourth year sociology major Gilberto Arteaga said he began asking the woman why she wouldn’t accept Periban’s ID. All of a sudden, he said, a college-aged white male behind him began to “shove” him and yell at the group to leave the line. Arteaga alleges the woman behind the counter threatened to call the cops, at which point the group decided to leave the line. On the way back to the table, Arteaga said, another employee approached the group and “kicked them out” of the restaurant.
The group was in the process of completing the popular “I.V. Loop,” a drinking challenge in which participants buy a beverage from every location in I.V. that sells alcohol. Every business they’d visited before arriving at Gio’s had accepted their ID cards, they said.
Moll, who identified herself as the current owner of Gio’s, responded to the group’s comments on Monday, saying the group didn’t have the correct card and calling Periban “belligerent” and “aggressive.” She went on to say her primary interest was protecting Gio’s liquor license.
“I can’t just give someone a beer unless I feel sure that it’s legitimate,” she said. Moll said Zarate’s suggestion that she would have served someone with a Canadian ID took her aback, noting that Gio’s cares about hiring a diverse staff.
“To be accused of racism — it hurts to the core because it’s not true,” Moll said. She wanted everyone to be safe and have a good time, she said, and dealt with the group in a “professional” fashion.
“I will swear to God it’s not based on race,” she said. “If they cause an unsafe situation for my customers and staff, I can ask them to leave.”
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control requires that all establishments serving alcohol ask for valid ID with proof of the consumer’s age. According to the Business & Professions Code, Section 25660, evidence can be presented via “a document issued by a federal, state, county, or municipal government” and must include a name, date of birth, photo, and written description. Passports, or ID cards issued by the Armed Forces, are also sufficient forms of evidence.
Leslie Pond, the supervising agent in charge for the ABC’s Central Coast region, clarified that a physical description was the most important part of an ID. While servers may accept a foreign ID if it lists height, weight, hair color, and other physical descriptors, Pond said that most foreign-issued IDs don’t have them.
An establishment may deny an ID if it does not feature physical descriptions. Out of Zarate’s Mexican ID, Periban’s EAD card, and their friend’s German ID, none contained physical descriptions.
“It is within their discretion to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ depending on the totality of circumstances,” Pond told The Bottom Line.
“We didn’t know what to do at that point, so we just left,” Bui wrote.
Following the incident, Zarate and Bui took to Facebook to air their frustrations. “I never thought I would experience this level of discrimination in Isla Vista,” Zarate wrote in a Facebook post. Many expressed outrage in the comments and took their discontent to the public Gio’s Facebook pages.
An update posted on Zarate’s Facebook late Wednesday night clarified the reasoning why IDs may have been turned down, but stated that he believed it was “disparate treatment and possible discrimination” when the worker accepted the German ID and turned down the other two’s initial IDs.
A barrage of 1.0-star reviews later, both pages have taken a hit. As of press time, Giovanni’s of Santa Barbara, the official page, sits at a 2.4-star average rating. Gio’s Isla Vista, a Facebook page operated by former owner Matt Meczka, now has an average rating of 2.2 stars. A warning on the business’s Yelp page says that reviews are unrepresentative of the restaurant’s quality and are due to recent media reports.
Amid rumors that the establishment was closing down, original owner Danny Babai transferred ownership to Moll in April of 2016. A statement sent to The Restaurant Guy, a local food blog, said that the three-part franchise had been in business since 1979. The group says that they have not yet been contacted by Gio’s Isla Vista about the incident, despite posting on its social media accounts and Yelp business page.