NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Chicho’s Backstage now stops serving alcohol 30 minutes earlier than it used to in order to help control crowds in downtown Norfolk, following several violent incidents.
The change is one of several the bar and restaurant owners said they have made since five people were shot, three of them fatally, outside their doors in March.
Businesses in downtown Norfolk that operate with late-night entertainment and alcohol have recently come under intense scrutiny, after nine shootings in the area since January.
Tuesday night, Chicho’s owners spoke in front of City Council, as the first and so far only owners to take City Manager Chip Filer’s recent warning literally. Following the most recent shooting downtown, Filer said “every establishment in the entertainment district downtown should begin preparing to come to this council and explain why they should continue to operate downtown.”
Louie Ochave, who has been president of the Chicho’s brand since 2014, said the tragedy five months back prompted his ownership group to pause and examine how they operate.
“Any parent, to lose a child is unbearable,” Ochave said, mentioning he is a father of three himself. “As a business owner, it made me realize, ‘let’s do a deep dive from an operational perspective.'”
The chain, which has eight locations, is known for its pizza. However, the Norfolk location, which opened in October 2019, has a stage and is authorized to have live entertainment in the form of a DJ, which they often utilize on select nights.
Norfolk Police have maintained that a spilled drink inside Chicho’s launched the argument that led to the shooting.
Ochave said it became clear quickly that their security camera system was not sufficient. Ochave said when police and Alcohol Beverage Control Authority (ABC) detectives arrived looking for video of the shooting and activities inside before leading up to it, they didn’t have any of it.
Ochave said roughly $30,000 has now been invested to change that.
Rory Schindel, one of the owners of the Norfolk Chicho’s location, said roughly eight to 10 cameras have recently been installed, to allow them to know exactly who is coming in and out of the establishment at all times.
“So we have the entire length of the whole front of the building covered by cameras,” Schindel said. “There’s almost no blind spots now.”
However, it was more than a lack of cameras that had a neighboring bar concerned following the violent night.
“Chicho’s … are no friend to the Norfolk downtown area. They are the host of all these problems,” Charles Kirkland, general manager of Girshwins, said to City Council in March.
He claimed the bar and restaurant overserved guests, didn’t have strong security and had too many people inside.
“Blood now runs through 300 block of Granby Street because of this,” Kirkland said.
Ochave strongly disagrees.
“I believe we run a top-notch operation. If we have a breakdown in training we make sure our management team gets the training back on par,” Ochave said.
He mentioned that after 9 p.m. each weekend night and on all busy nights there are at least three security guards on-hand, two with DCJS certification.
Schindel said while the establishment is allowed 299 people, they are now capping occupancy at 150-180 people.
In a round of code inspections following the shooting, the city found Chicho’s was not in violation of its, conditional use permit.
“Chicho’s is a part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Ochave said.
Recently, Ochave said last call was moved from 1:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. in order to try and help disperse their crowd at a different time than all the other bars.
“We’re giving up a half hour of our hours of business to work with everybody,” Ochave said. “We went to City Council to introduce them to our brand, to who Chicho’s is. We have done a terrible job marketing ourselves from that perspective.”
Ochave said he doesn’t believe shutting down businesses at midnight, or putting some out of business entirely, will ultimately cure the issues the city has been seeing.
Rather he said the city needs to decide exactly what kind of downtown they want to have and move everyone in that direction.
“There’s always a solution, everyone needs to work together. There needs to be a lot of communication,” Ochave said.