There’s a note near the top of the menu at Anchor Fish & Chips, warning customers that the northeast Minneapolis restaurant operates under unusual rules not of its own choosing.
“DUE TO THE NATURE OF OUR LIQUOR LICENSE,” it says in big letters, “We cannot serve a guest beer or wine without the purchase of a meal. We thank you for your understanding.”
The rules put stress on the business and often annoy customers — and restaurant owners hope they will disappear after voters decide on a city ballot measure in the Nov. 4 election.
“If this whole campaign reaches out to the likes of those people, they’re going to vote to get rid of this, because they’ve experienced it,” said co-owner Kathryn Hayes.
Night after night, said Hayes, servers have the same conversations with confused patrons: Yes, they can have a beer with their meal. No, they can’t have one while they’re waiting for a table, or before they put in their food order, or if they’re not planning to order a meal.
Like about 70 other restaurants around the city, Hayes’ business is governed by a special set of laws in the city charter that include strict sales ratios requiring at least 70 percent of revenue to be from food and no more than 30 percent from alcohol.
The ratio, along with other rules about when alcohol can be sold, were aimed at keeping bars — and trouble — out of neighborhoods.
In September, the City Council scratched similar rules for restaurants located along busier commercial stretches. Council members agreed with restaurant owners who said the food-alcohol ratios were out of touch with the modern restaurant business; with more customers ordering higher-priced craft beers, cocktails and wine, it was becoming increasingly difficult to make the math work.
Lobbying before election
But because restaurants located farther out in neighborhoods are granted alcohol licenses under the city charter, which can only be amended by a popular vote, the council’s action did not affect restaurants such as Anchor Fish & Chips, Birchwood Cafe, Kings Cafe & Wine Bar, Pizzeria Lola and Matt’s Bar. So with less than a month to go before Election Day, restaurant owners are working to persuade voters that outdated rules are hurting business — and that changing them wouldn’t lead to trouble in quiet neighborhoods.
Ballot Question 2 asks voters if they want to remove the rule that businesses with wine licenses must serve food with every order, and end the food-alcohol sales ratio requirements. The vote would not affect the type of alcohol that neighborhood restaurants can sell; they’re still limited to beer and wine, no hard liquor.
A plan approved by the council in September would still require the restaurants to have food available whenever they are open, and to limit the bar area of the restaurant to no more than 20 percent of the business’ total public space.
Several neighborhood organizations have expressed support for the changes. Grant Wilson, the city’s business licensing manager, said he was unaware of any groups that had formally registered their opposition.
Molly Broder, who owns Broders’ Pasta Bar, Cucina Italiana and Terzo Vino Bar, said that while there’s been no organized opposition to the proposal, she worries that the language of the question might confuse voters.
“My biggest issue is just the ‘don’t know’ factor,” she said. “Don’t know, don’t want change. Unfortunately, we’re trying to get the laws to come up with the change that has already occurred.”
Broder and other restaurant owners leading the charge on the campaign have recruited former Mayor R.T. Rybak and a handful of local musicians to star in commercials they’re posting online. The “Vote Yes on 2” group is also hosting a handful of fundraising events over the next few weeks.
It’s a relatively low-key campaign — Broder notes that running a restaurant doesn’t leave much time for politicking — but even business owners who aren’t as directly affected by the rules say they’re trying to show support for others in the industry.
Caroline Glawe, general manager of Wise Acre Eatery in south Minneapolis, said she doesn’t have trouble meeting the 70/30 ratio because she serves breakfast. But she said each business has a different model and wants to see the city do more to help them all.
“There are so many important restaurants that are certainly not in the category of bars, certainly not turning out patrons after being overserved,” she said. “It’s an issue of being able to serve really high-quality wines to go with serious food. Those restaurants being so penalized and under a microscope is beyond frustrating, and it’s about time someone takes a look at that legislation.”