Kamotiq Inn owner blames “vendetta” for licencing problems
“This is a total scam”
For a guy who looms large in Iqaluit’s hospitality industry, Marcel Mahé sure has a knack for rubbing some important people the wrong way.
Mahé, who owns the Kamotiq Inn, an igloo-shaped dining spot and watering hole at Iqaluit’s Four Corners that has become a local landmark since he built it almost a quarter of a century ago, has been battling officials from the Fire Marshal’s office and the Liquor Licencing Board for much of the past five years.
Now the board has refused to renew the Kamotiq’s interim liquor licence, a devastating financial blow which is roughly equivalent to Mean Gene’s being prohibited from selling burgers.
“This is a total scam,” Mahé sputtered in an interview from Ottawa, where he is staying, he says, because he is suffering from heart disease.
He blames all of his problems on “a vendetta” launched by an employee of the licencing board as well as a dispute over money and other matters between himself and a contractor, which resulted in long delays in carrying out improvements ordered by the Fire Marshal.
To make matters worse, he says, the licencing board employed a man he described as an undercover operative – “we called him 007” who came into the Kamotiq last year, and, in Mahé’s words, “conned one of my waiters” into serving him three rum and cokes without any food. That’s prohibited by Nunavut’s liquor legislation.
Mahé’s differences with the licencing board came to a head last March, when the board, citing past violations under the Fire Prevention Act and the Liquor Act, cancelled the Kamotiq’s liquor licence.
But Mahé appealed to the Nunavut Court of Justice, which ruled last August that the liquor board had breached a duty of fairness by failing to allow Mahé and his wife Lore sufficient time to properly defend themselves.
Judge Calvin Tallis ordered the board to “reconsider and hear the Kamotiq Inn’s concerns.” What’s more, he ordered the Nunavut Department of Justice to pay $1,000 toward the Mahés’ court costs.
But Judge Tallis also noted that they had received repeated warnings from the fire marshal’s office since 1998 and a letter from the licencing board referred to the restaurant’s “persistent failure” to carry out orders made by the fire marshal.
After the court decision, Fire Marshal Gerald Pickett said the Kamotiq had complied with his office’s orders and the building was up to code.
Mahé said this week that he and his wife spent about $40,000 to bring the Kamotiq into compliance, installing a new venting system in the kitchen, a new fire extinguisher system and carrying out other needed improvements.
He blamed long delays in complying on a contractor, whom he said was slow in ordering equipment, and who, at one point ripped out a fire extinguisher system because of a dispute over money.
The Kamotiq had been operating on an interim licence, pending a hearing earlier this month.
Mahé, a former elementary school principal in Apex, says he built the Kamotiq in 1980 because he found himself with an unused building lot after constructing a house for his wife and himself.
Without a liquor licence, the viability of the Kamotiq, its future, and the fate of its 10 employees, remains in doubt.
“If we can sell liquor,” Mahé says, “we can sell more food.” The 60-year-old restaurateur, who intends to appeal the board’s decision, is uncertain what the future holds for himself or his restaurant. “I can’t say what’s going to happen,” he says.
But, he adds, he can say one thing with certainty: “I think it’s not a fair decision.”