Few would have predicted that craft beer and fine wine would become major sources of democratic activism in the 21st century.
But now that Minneapolis has relaxed its liquor laws to remove strict food-to-alcohol sales ratios, Edina is considering changing its laws, too. And the main reason is craft beer — which, along with fine wine, has upset long-established patterns of consumption in the restaurant business.
Edina’s current law requires a restaurant selling alcohol to generate at least 60 percent of its annual revenue from food. No more than 40 percent can come from liquor. But with the rise of expensive craft beers and exotic wines, the bar tab for a simple meal can easily exceed the cost of the food. So the Edina City Council, at the urging of local restaurateurs, is looking at changing the law.
“The beverage industry is totally different than it was at one time,” said Ruth Johnston, co-owner of Beaujo’s Wine Bar & Bistro at 50th and France. “At one time it probably made sense, but it doesn’t anymore with the way people dine out. A person could spend $12 on a glass of wine and have a burger for $8.
“We just cannot be competitive with Minneapolis,” Johnston said. “We’re limited in the kinds of wines we can bring in, because we always have to be aware of what the liquor/food ratio is. If you don’t have to be aware of that, you could bring in some real specialty wines that people would pay for.”
The Minnesota Restaurant Association is advising Edina on potential changes in its liquor laws. Dan McElroy, the association’s executive vice president, said few cities in the metro region have food-to-alcohol ratios. Edina’s liquor laws have some other unusual quirks, he said, such as a ban on pouring at the table from any container larger than a liter. That rules out pitchers of beer and magnums of champagne at Edina restaurants.
“We don’t think our guests are going to change their preferences for craft beer and wine,” McElroy said. “If the goal is to have restaurants with alcohol, we can help them with that.”
Edina officials have said they’re not interested in allowing stand-alone bars, but McElroy said there are ways to make sure that establishments serving alcohol don’t overemphasize booze. Among them: requiring a full menu of food cooked from scratch, not just heated up; limiting the number of seats in a bar area and requiring food service during most of the hours the restaurant is open.
McElroy noted that areas other than 50th and France would benefit from a change. Southdale has several restaurants that serve alcohol, as does the Galleria.
At a City Council meeting this week, members got a summary of citizen comments on liquor laws from the city’s “Speak Up, Edina” online forum. With dozens of commenters, more than 95 percent favored relaxing or scrapping the food-to-alcohol ratio.
“Minneapolis has eliminated their ratio, and so as you go across France Avenue, there are competitors to restaurants in Edina that aren’t subject to that sort of limitation,” Mayor James Hovland said. “This will be an interesting issue for us to work on.” Hovland said the council doesn’t want to create a raucous bar scene in Edina.
“We will be deciding as a council if we will be changing the food/liquor ratio without changing the ambience, for example, of 50th and France,” he said.