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Fact check: Minneapolis "wine inspectors"

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: April 2, 2013 - 11:59 AM

Mayoral candidate Gary Schiff garnered some attention at last week's debate when he cited an obscure city position as a reason for overhauling Minneapolis' regulatory code.

“Did you know you can get a job in the city of Minneapolis as a wine inspector?" said Schiff, a City Council member. "Your job is to go to a wine bar, and if a plate of bread doesn’t hit the table before that glass of wine, the business gets a $200 citation.”

This statement is misleading.

First, the city does not have a position called "wine inspector." Outside of downtown, it employs license inspectors who regulate everything from bars to laundromats, said business licensing manager Grant Wilson.

Second, the only businesses where customers must order food in order to drink alcohol are located far from commercial nodes, usually deep in residential neighborhoods. These so-called "charter" wine licenses (because they are specifically allowed by the charter) are rare.

Most wine bars, such as the new Spill the Wine location on Lake Street, must only make 60 percent of their annual revenue from food. Patrons can drink without eating.

So do inspectors order wine and no food at charter wine license establishments, to see if the restaurant will still serve them?

Wilson said that would be an exceedingly rare situation. It is more likely, he said, that the inspectors would sit in the restaurant as customers and observe whether patrons order meals.

Schiff said his point was that the per-customer meal purchase requirement is an undue burden on charter wine licensees. They are, after all, also subject to a 70 percent annual food sales requirement.

"I think that that [charter] wine establishments should have the same type of rule as the restaurants, so that at the end of the day...or at the end of the month, their percentages are balanced, and not each transaction," Schiff said.

As for the existence of "wine inspectors," Schiff said "it's an inspector at a wine bar. So what is their title? I call it a wine inspector."

UPDATE: Wilson confirmed that there are currently 54 charter wine licenses in the city.

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