The owners of Sneaux La La on Statesboro’s Blue Mile have agreed to change aspects of their business plan to make adding alcohol-containing shaved-ice treats to their menu acceptable to the city government.
Married couple Annie and Johnathan Natson own the “New Orleans-style snowball” stand at 408 South Main St. In operation since April selling nonalcoholic “Sneauxballs” and snack items, Sneaux La La is one of two competing “snowball” or shaved ice, businesses facing off across the Blue Mile.
Annie Natson’s application for a low-volume alcoholic beverage serving license received “no issues” approval recommendations from the city Planning and Development office and the Statesboro Fire Department and an “approval” recommendation from the Police Department on a written form.
But during the hearing within Tuesday’s regular city council meeting, Chief of Police Mike Broadhead voiced concerns.
“This is just outside the business model of what we’ve seen before and I would hope that as a council you would have a conversation with the owner about what their real intentions for the business are,” he said.
Broadhead’s specific concerns, he said, included wondering how the alcohol service area would be kept apart from the small children such a business attracts and not knowing “how you would take… an alcohol-infused icy away from the location and not have an open-container violation.”
City Attorney Cain Smith, whose space on the recommendation form was marked “consider” rather than “approve,” said he seconded the police chief’s concerns, especially in regard to any alcoholic beverages being taken away.
“There is no way the beverage could be removed from there and it not be an open-container violation,” Smith said. “Even with the state’s new to-go cocktails law, it wouldn’t be applicable here because there’s not a prepared meal served alongside with it.”
The new state law allows up to two mixed drinks in sealed containers to be included with a to-go order picked up by the same person who ordered it. The drinks have to be placed in a closed trunk or compartment, or in the farthest back seat in a vehicle that has no trunk.
Annie Natson noted that Sneaux La La does serve some food items, including Frito pies with chili and cheese. On the business’ menu board these are listed as snacks, as are nachos and ice cream. In addition to a drive-thru and a walk-up window and a few parking spaces, the business has outdoor tables with 22 chairs, some of them under an awning on the deck.
Smith recommended that if a license were issued, the council impose a condition that alcohol-containing items be served in cups of a different color from non-alcoholic snowballs or drinks.
A Louisiana idea
The Natsons, who both spoke to the council, said they plan to serve only a small amount of alcohol as a part of their business. Annie Natson said she understood that the product sounds strange here but that it isn’t in New Orleans.
“It’s new to Statesboro, it’s new to Georgia, but I’m from Louisiana. This is something we do there,” she said.
Natson at first said that the alcohol-containing shaved-ice would be served in “sealed containers,” Styrofoam cups with lids with a piece of tape over the top. She suggested this would make them no longer open containers.
To address the concern about children being present, the alcohol-containing ice treats would be served only during certain hours, she said. Sneaux La La is currently open 1-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-7 p.m. Sunday. But the owners are looking to add some hours and would serve the alcoholic items after 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, she said.
“During the day, before 6 (p.m.) is when we serve our children and our families the most, and then those numbers kind of taper off and decline towards the end of the night, and that’s when we see our 21-years-old and older population come to our establishment,” Natson said.
District 4 Councilman John Riggs asked that the decision be tabled for two weeks to give the council time to review the Sneaux La La’s written business plan. Otherwise, Riggs would have voted against approval, he said.
District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr asked Smith to clarify whether the business could comply with the open container law.
“The business model that they’ve discussed is not possible under Statesboro Code of Ordinances,” Smith said. “The low-volume license is an on-premises consumption license.”
He cited a subsection that prohibits removing beverages from the premises under this licensing category.
Last year the council approved an exemption for pedestrians or outdoor diners to possess alcoholic drinks in cups of a certain size and at certain hours, in a defined downtown area. But it does not create an exemption for vehicles, and Sneaux La La is outside the defined area.
“No alcohol served on the premises can leave, no matter how it’s sealed or how it’s served,” Smith said.
Natson then proposed to provide easily identified glasses or cups for the alcohol-containing products to remain on-premises.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum questioned whether a low-volume license would be appropriate for this business.
“To me they should be getting a restaurant license, since they’re serving food, they’re under the Health Department,” Boyum said. “To me, it’s a restaurant.”
In 2019 when City Council approved low-volume licenses as a new category, the example given was hair salons or barbershops that offer clients a glass of beer or wine.
But as Smith pointed out Tuesday, the only definitive requirement in the city ordinance is that a low-volume licensee must receive no more than $1,000 in average monthly wholesale deliveries of alcoholic beverages over the course of a year. The city monitors this through reports submitted by the wholesalers.
The annual fee for a low-volume license is $750, but a restaurant pouring license costs $2,800.
Joyce Stubbs from the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council was the only speaker in the “against” portion of the licensing hearing.
“One of our main focuses is underage drinking, and so we are very much opposed to something that is normally associated with kids to be serving alcohol,” she said.
Tabled two weeks
In response to a question from District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, Smith said the Natsons’ business could be eligible for a low-volume license if they serve the alcohol in “non-removable” containers and “make very clear in numerous places that no alcohol may leave that premises.”
“Ms. Natson, are you willing to put up signs saying that no alcoholic beverages can leave the premises and make sure that they stay on the premises?” Chavers asked. “Is that something that you’re willing to adjust to, because I’m also concerned about underage drinking as well, but I’m also with the prospering of businesses here in Statesboro?”
Natson said she was willing and that the business owners were already making adjustments, including hiring employees over 21 and planning to check all IDs.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar asked that the council table its decision and that city staff members work with the Natsons to revised their plan and bring the license application back for approval. A motion from Boyum to table with that understanding, seconded by Barr, passed 4-0. District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack was away.