“We’ve been accused of being bad neighbors and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” says Glenn Chelo, co-owner of nine Chelo’s Restaurants statewide, including the waterfront location at 1 Masthead Drive that has been accused of creating noise, parking and littering issues for Cowesett residents. “All we’re asking is to operate in the guidelines of the law.”
In an interview Friday afternoon, Chelo said he is frustrated with the situation and he and his brother, Craig, are thinking about relocating their two Warwick establishments to East Greenwich. He said this would be a big hit to Warwick, as the waterfront restaurant paid $10,620 in tangible taxes, $195,359 in property taxes and $612,405 in sales taxes.
“We have to beg to do business in the City of Warwick,” said Chelo. “I don’t get it. It’s disgraceful.”
Further, he feels “dirty politics” are taking place.
“My family and I are committed to finding out what’s going on and who’s involved,” he said. “My employees don’t deserve this type of treatment. Their jobs are being thrown away.”
Due to the recent restriction of hours of operations in terms of live entertainment, Chelo had to layoff 45 to 50 employees. He said it potentially impacts 300 people in total, from servers, bartenders, bar backs, supervisors, managers, maintenance workers, security guards, liquor distributors, valet employees, as well as vendors and band members.
“My family is going to be O.K., though it would be nice to stay in business,” Chelo said. “But what about all those people that they are laying off?”
At a meeting at the Warwick Police Department last week, nearly 150 people were present to watch the Board of Public Safety inform Chelo that the venue may host outdoor entertainment from 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. In previous years, bands were permitted to perform on additional days and until 11 p.m.
But, in contrast to a Jan. 24 meeting, the board advised Chelo to limit live entertainment until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. While he said he’s happy his establishment gained an increase in hours, he said he doesn’t understand why the board is restricting hours in the first place when the restaurant has not had a noise or traffic violation in its 17 years of business. In fact, said Chelo, the venue received one violation in that span of time and it was for playing past curfew.
“Why is this an issue now?” Chelo said. “We didn’t say, ‘Up the volume.’ Some people have legitimate concerns and, over the years, we’ve done everything we possibly can to minimize the noise, and now we’re going to do even more.”
Chelo said he spent $45,000 for a 300-square-foot soundproof stage.
“There isn’t any other one like it in the state,” he said. “We built the Taj Mahal of soundproof stages.”
Additionally, Chelo plans on moving the stage sideways, as it will be positioned towards the water to possibly lower noise levels. This, he said, will cost $75,000.
“We don’t have to turn the stage, but we’re going to,” he said.
Chelo also installed a $15,000 sound system, added valet services and hired two police details to control traffic. Further, he stopped booking particular bands that attracted larger crowds, such as Those Guys and World Premiere.
In 2011 Chelo said he and his staff invited more than 100 neighbors by mail for a free lunch and the opportunity to talk about any concerns they had with the venue.
“We wanted to know if there was something we could do to make us better neighbors and only one person came,” he said.
That person was Barbara Dickerson, a Cowesett resident, as well as a retired principal and teacher. Her husband, John, owns Apponaug Harbor Marina, a competitor of Brewer’s Greenwich Bay Marina, which is located near Chelo’s.
Chelo said he believes Barbara is responsible for rallying Cowesett against him and the venue, as she was the only one who accepted his invitation. Yet, she said during a phone interview Tuesday morning that isn’t so.
“I have never rallied anyone, but I let my neighbors know when there is a meeting,” she said. “All our neighbors along the water have been tortured by Chelo’s. We’re all very, very upset by the noise. And I have nothing to do with the marina. My husband’s family started the marina 50 years ago and my husband took it over 30 years ago. [Chelo] implied that I am doing this because we are losing customers, and that’s not the case.”
She said she and John used to live at 46 Paul Avenue but moved to 4 Paul Avenue hoping she’d be able to sleep better being further away. To her dismay, she was wrong, as she can’t sleep when bands are performing.
“I’ve heard all the comments: ‘We should use earplugs. We knew what we were getting into when we bought our homes. We’re lame. We’re idiots. We should come and enjoy the music,’” Barbara said. “These people do not understand the other side of the story. It’s upsetting.”
Barbara said at times she has been unable to open her windows on breezy summer nights or have a conversation on her deck. Chelo’s methods to improve the situation do not satisfy her.
“It has not done a thing,” she said. “They have become a nightclub, not a family restaurant, because of the big bands they have.”
Others share her sentiments, including board member Dr. Joseph Spinale. At last week’s meeting, he told Chelo he considers the establishment to have a nightlife atmosphere. While Spinale was contacted via phone for a comment, he did not return calls by press time.
Chelo said he thinks it’s “absurd” for Spinale to make that suggestion. He said that since 2011, the sales ratio was 62 percent food and 38 percent liquor.
“What nightclub serves a full menu the whole time they are open?” Chelo said. “Children can listen to the music and dance. We’ve never charged a cover fee and we monitor the sound every two hours. Never once have we gone over the decibel reading. We’re below by five decibels and that’s a big, big difference.”
Currently, under city ordinance, noise cannot be above 60 decibels from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and above 50 decibels from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Moreover, Chelo feels that Spinale is prejudging Chelo’s and going out of his way to hinder the venue.
“I asked him if he ever goes to Chelo’s and he said, ‘When I can get in,’ and he’s upset about it,” Chelo said. “That’s a good thing. Don’t you want those tax dollars? Don’t you want those jobs? He told me he still recommended zero hours knowing full-well it would put us out of business.”
Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla, who recently attempted to amend the noise ordinance but withdrew it due to constituent opposition, said he doesn’t think Spinale seeks to force Chelo’s to close. In fact, he said he met with the Chelo family in early winter and recommended they stop booking certain bands and lower the decibels.
“This isn’t a vendetta,” Merolla said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “If this was happening in front of Mr. Chelo’s house, he’d be thanking Dr. Spinale. The city has been overly considerate of Chelo’s circumstances and has given them chance after chance after chance to correct the situation. A lot of the remedies Chelo’s offered at the last meeting I had suggested many months ago and they refused to do it.”
The issue, said Merolla and Dickerson, isn’t just noise. They said the venue has caused parking problems and patrons often urinate, vomit, even fornicate, on residential property.
“This wasn’t a problem in the past until they expanded their operations,” Merolla said. “I don’t begrudge Chelo’s from making money, but they’ve turned it into something else. Let’s not check our common sense at the door. They put in an outdoor tiki bar, two fire pits and hired bands that drew hundreds, if not 1,000 people, and they wonder why there’s a problem.”
Chelo said while he has taken responsibility for these claims, it upsets him that people don’t consider that his patrons may not be the culprits. While neighbors have complained that they have found beer cans on their lawns, Chelo said his establishments don’t serve beer in cans.
“Why is there an assumption that it’s all Chelo’s?” he said. “Leslie [Walaska Baxter, the board’s chairwoman] said she drove around the neighborhood and struggled to hear the music. So why did she punish us? They screwed up, and I wish they would make it right.”
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Baxter said she did, in fact, visit Chelo’s two nights last summer. She explained that she stood in the parking lot, heard what was playing and drove down various side streets on Post Road. She said she could faintly hear music, which was muffled by local motorists. But, she said when she went to neighborhoods in the Nausauket area it was more audible.
“The music travels across the water,” Baxter said. “I wasn’t driving around at 11 at night when the background noise was a little bit quiet. To be fair to the neighbors, they hear it more than I do.”
Chris Ruhling, the general manager and vice president of Brewer’s Greenwich Bay Marina and Brewer’s Cowesset, said his customers have never made any complaints against Chelo’s. He has been operating the marinas since 1991.
“My customers love the atmosphere Chelo’s provides,” Ruhling said. “I have four children that make me come back to the boatyard at night to come down to Chelo’s, especially my little ones who like dancing. I think the Board of Public Safety is very shortsighted. Chelo’s has had one violation in 17 years and have done huge improvements trying to answer the call of the neighborhoods. It’s interesting to me that a very small group has had such an impact in terms of the Board of Public Safety making the decision they did.”
Nevertheless, Baxter is optimistic about the future. The next meeting on the issue is scheduled for June 12.
“We’re thinking about going forward and having a peaceful summer in which Chelo’s is successful and the neighbors are happy,” she said. “If everything goes fine we’ll see what everyone has to say and make adjustments, hopefully in Chelo’s favor.”