If all goes as planned, Ann Carlson-Yunga will finally be able to say yes to customers thirsting for margaritas with their slow-roasted pork dinners.
Carlson-Yunga, who co-owns La Mesa, a Latin-inspired restaurant in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood, is among the first 10 restaurateurs who have applied for liquor licenses since voters changed the city’s charter in November. With another 60 establishments eligible, Minneapolis officials expect more applications to flow in when many licenses come up for renewal in a few months.
If the city approves her application, Carlson-Yunga doesn’t expect her business to be transformed. She hopes adding a cocktail menu will encourage diners to stick around longer — instead of having to go elsewhere for a nightcap.
“Historically, we would have to explain to them why we weren’t able to apply” for a liquor license, she said. “When people found out that was an option, we got a lot of neighborhood support. Now that it’s passed, we have people looking forward to us being able to offer these additional things they’ve been looking for.”
Under the old rules, restaurants were only eligible to serve liquor if they were located within a 7-acre area of commercially zoned businesses. That limited neighborhood restaurants like La Mesa to beer and wine.
Last year, Minneapolis residents voted with a 72 percent majority to ditch the spacing requirement.
That doesn’t mean the city automatically grants these businesses a liquor license. Owners can now pursue a license through the same process as those in commercial areas.
The restaurant on track to first complete that process is Pizzeria Lola, a popular eatery in the Armatage neighborhood owned by Minneapolis restaurateurs Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur. On Tuesday, the City Council’s Economic Development and Regulatory Services Committee unanimously recommended approval of Lola’s liquor license application.
In considering the license, the committee held a public forum, and city inspectors solicited feedback from neighbors. Of the six who responded, four expressed support for Pizzeria Lola getting a liquor license.
“They are my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood and I voted in favor of lifting the previous liquor license restrictions in the 2018 election,” wrote resident Bart Kersteter.
Two voiced dissent, including one neighbor who feared adding a liquor license could disrupt the tranquillity of the neighborhood.
Leifur appeared before the committee, saying the license would mean minimal changes to the small restaurant. “It’s going to be a very minor expansion to our beverage program,” he said. “We’re envisioning a couple — three — cocktails on tap.”
The full council will cast a final vote on the license Friday.
Minneapolis Charter Commissioner Matt Perry said he’s excited to see so many businesses applying so quickly, especially coming off the busy holiday season. Perry said he expects to see a spike in applications this spring, when restaurants will be renewing their liquor licenses.
Council Member Linea Palmisano said she’s optimistic the ordinance change will also encourage businesses to open in residential communities, such as north Minneapolis, because they’ll be able to make more money serving liquor.
As several businesses look to upgrade their licenses in her south Minneapolis ward, Palmisano is planning a community forum to connect neighbors with business owners to address community concerns. In the past, she said, most who complain about new liquor licenses are more worried about noise or parking than what’s being served at the bar.
“The concerns around these have never been liquor,” she said, “but the establishment’s customer-to-neighbor kinds of concerns.”