Owner of Louie's Escapes Jail Time

Alexander B. Lemann

Louie’s owner Cheng-San Chen leaves a hearing at the Cambridge District Court yesterday. Chen will not go to jail but may lose his license for up to six months.

The owner of Louie’s Superette, Cheng-San Chen, will not face jail time for charges of selling alcohol to minors, following yesterday’s criminal proceedings in the Cambridge District Court.

The hearing came three weeks after Cambridge Police Department (CPD) officers caught four underage Harvard students carrying beer from the store.

According to Massachusetts state law, the sale of alcohol to “any person under 21 years of age...shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.”

Assistant Clerk Pauline Churwin, who served as magistrate in the case, barred members of the press from the hearing and later declined to comment on the case.

But Chen told The Crimson yesterday that he would not be placed behind bars.

“[Chen] is accepting responsibility for what has occurred, and we will ensure that it will never happen again,” said Chen’s attorney, Larry Frisole.

“If Harvard students come into the store with phoney IDs, his first recourse will be to call the police on them.”

Even after today’s ruling, Chen’s legal troubles are not over. The Cambridge Licensing Commision will rule on March 16 whether Chen can continue to sell liquor at Louie’s.

The commission’s executive officer, Richard V. Scali, said it has completed its investigation of the store and is preparing to send Chen a letter detailing the allegations.

According to Scali, second-time offenders of the state’s underage drinking laws typically receive one- to three-day license suspensions if they prove the violation was a “mistake.”

In cases when the violation has been “deliberate,” according to Scali, “the most serious thing the commission has done is give someone a six-month suspension on a second-time offense.”

According to the CPD police log, the early February incident was the second time Louie’s was cited as selling alcohol to minors.

“I’m kind of confused,” Chen said while driving his red Dodge Caravan away from the courthouse. “Should I retire next year or should I not retire? If they take away my liquor license, I’m going to retire and shut down the store.”

Chen said that alcohol sales account for 50 percent of Louie’s total revenue. “Without alcohol, I don’t think the store can survive,” he said.

Clad in a plaid shirt, grey scarf and blue jeans, Chen—a 60-year-old Wellesley resident—arrived at the hearing carrying a week-old copy of The Harvard Crimson.

“The reason I have the store is I like Harvard students,” said Chen, the father of two Columbia University alums, adding that he often discusses Chinese culture and philosophy with customers.

Chen, who has owned Louie’s since 1987, said he is a former Taiwanese army lieutenant and holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Despite his store’s heavy reliance on alcohol, Chen said he counsels students on the perils of drinking, and that he personally abstains from alcohol.

“I get drunk too fast,” Chen said.

Chen has been the victim of two armed robberies behind the counter of Louie’s, including one on Jan. 2 in which a gun-toting suspect stole more than $100 from the store.

Since then, the store has garnered increased attention from police, Frisole said.

Only Frisole, Chen and Lt. Daniel Reagan of the CPD were present at yesterday’s hearing.

Reagan declined to comment on the proceedings.

A spokesperson for the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office,

Seth I. Horowitz, was unable to return a request for comment yesterday.

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.