Since before the restaurant even moved to South Baltimore in 2021, Papi Cuisine has attracted customers from far and wide for its crab cake egg rolls and other dishes. But neighbors of the restaurant’s 2 E. Wells St. location charged in letters and testimony to Baltimore’s board of liquor license commissioners that the eatery’s customers have also double-parked, drag raced and gotten into fights just outside the establishment.

“We’re good neighbors,” said Light Street resident Kaitlyn Clarkson during a hearing Thursday, calling the restaurant owners “bad neighbors” for failing to respond to their complaints.

Any business with a liquor license must renew it each spring, which also offers neighbors a chance to voice concerns about establishments they believe are breaking the rules. If 10 people sign a petition of protest, it goes before the city’s liquor board.

Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Light Street residents submitted letters to the liquor board detailing their complaints about Papi. One signed by a Light Street resident named “Joshua,” enumerated various problems including litter. “Good God — the trash!” he wrote, accusing Papi’s guests of discarding leftovers in the street. He also said he observed people drinking and smoking cannabis in public and “throwing empty liquor bottles on the ground.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“To hold the operator responsible [for behavior outside the restaurant] I think is a bit of a stretch,” said Joseph Woolman, an attorney representing Papi, which was previously located in Fells Point. “That being said, we recognize there are problems.”

The owners said they have already taken steps to address any issues. Co-owner Alex Perez said the restaurant spends $20,000 per month on security and $6,000 on trash, and has stopped taking third-party delivery orders out of consideration for the impact on traffic. It’s in the business’ best interest to keep the neighborhood safe, he said. “We’re not hosting fight nights here at Papi’s.”

Though the commissioners voted to renew the restaurant’s liquor license, which is in the process of being transferred to the building’s landlord, it is on the condition that they enter a memorandum of understanding with neighbors. Both sides will have to iron it out over meetings with the liquor board’s community liaison, Matt Achhammer, after which such agreements are added to a business’ liquor license and become legally binding.

After the hearing, Papi’s owners expressed concerns that an MOU might leave them on the hook for bad behavior that has nothing to do with them.

Perez’s business partner Berry Clark said that residents have unfairly assumed that fights near the restaurant are his customers. He also said that as a Black-owned restaurant, Papi has been unfairly targeted for complaints. Though there are several other eateries close by, residents said during the hearing they only have problems with Papi.

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner.

More From The Banner