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Local restaurant owners unhappy with proposed alcohol changes
Queen mug
Nathan Queen - photo by FILE
    Statesboro restaurant owners were surprised to learn the city’s Alcohol Control Board proposed Tuesday raising the food percentage requirement to 60 percent for restaurants that serve alcohol. According to a plan proposed by the board, any restaurant that falls below 60 percent in food sales in its quarterly alcohol ordinance compliance report would be reclassified as a bar and would be prohibited from allowing anyone under 21 in their establishment – at any time.
    The 60/40 proposal was among several items the board approved Tuesday during a joint meeting of the city council and alcohol board. Board members recommended the council call for a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales and to create three categories for alcohol license holders.
    Under the proposal, restaurants would fall into the first category and be required to meet a higher standard of 60 percent food sales and 40 percent alcohol sales – a higher threshold than the current requirement of 50/50, which mirrors state minimums. The second category would cover recreational facilities, including pool halls and bowling alleys. All other establishments would fit in the third category and be classified as bars. Bars would have no food percentage requirement, but would be restricted only to patrons 21 and older at all times.
    Several locally owned restaurants would be affected, including established businesses like Dingus Magee’s, Dos Primos and Retrievers, as well as relatively new venues like Gnat’s Landing, French Quarter and Statesboro Brews.
    The biggest concern among local alcohol license holders is that limiting patronage to 21-and-over would severely cut into their lunch crowd and alter the way they do business.
    “If it had to be 21 and up it would definitely hurt our lunch business for sure,” said Dingus Magee’s owner, Stephanie Owens. “Just for those days that I have all those kids that are at camp (at GSU) over the summer, they come over here, eat and buy t-shirts – yeah, it would hurt my business.”
Some owners think the change would be so drastic as to force them to restructure their business at least or possibly even force them out of business.
    “I would probably hurt me, I would think. I’m doing a lot of things to promote the restaurant side of the business,” said French Quarter owner, Brent Hulsey. “If we go to all 21, there’s no way to even have a family restaurant at all. I’d have to totally change my business.”
    “I think that would be absolutely ridiculous. I would put me out of business,” said Gnat’s Landing owner, Al Chapman. “There is no way I can’t have families come in here to eat dinner.”
    Retrievers manager Nathan Queen said beginning college students are a big part of his lunch crowd.
    “It’d obviously hurt our lunch business,” Queen said. “Think about the people who are coming over here for lunch, it’s not the people from downtown, it’s the people from the college. I also wouldn’t take Eagle Express anymore.”
    A reason Alcohol Control Board members gave for proposing to change the food percentage requirement is to curb underage drinking. However, some believe that preventing young college students from going out to a live music venue would simply create an atmosphere for unsanctioned events.
     “I believe it would encourage more underage drinking at keg parties because there would be no places for (18 to 20-year-olds) to hangout,” said Dos Primos manager, David Poor. “You go to a keg party and you don’t have bouncers to control underage drinking or bartenders to ID and prevent underage drinking. There’s no supervision there.”
    Before the board voted to raise the food percentage requirement for restaurants and classify any business with less than 60 percent gross food sales as a bar, city council member Tommy Blitch pushed for a common sense approach.
    “We need to get rules we can follow, not just change them everytime something comes up,” Blitch said.
    However, other board members believe the 60/40 requirement would separate “real” restaurants from those that more resemble bars or taverns.
    “For real restaurants, 60/40 is not an unreasonable percentage and those would be the only places that qualify for Sunday sales,” said board member Paul Ferguson.
    Ferguson also doubted a Sunday sales referendum would be approved by Statesboro voters without a restrictive food percentage requirement.
    “I’m telling you the only way there is a chance of it passing is if it’s for real restaurants. I don’t think it has a snowball’s chance if it’s not at least 75/25,” Ferguson said.
    “You’d be lucky to get it at 80/20,” said board member Rob Hane, who manages Longhorn Steakhouse.
    While local owners were encouraged by some of the board’s decisions – namely, standardizing violation penalties and abandoning server permits – they were discouraged by the proposal for new restaurant categories by the board.
    “I’m actually stunned. (The ACB board) didn’t accomplish a thing except to further tie up the hands of all the people who own restaurants and want to serve alcohol,” said Statesboro Brews owner Gail Ansley.