November 30 2017

Selectmen Demand Answers from Restaurants with Unused Liquor Licenses

By: Rich Hosford

The Board of Selectmen took aim at three businesses that have liquor licenses but haven’t been using them.


The establishments in question were the closed restaurants Romano’s Bonefish Grill and Macaroni Grill and the approved but unstarted Burlington Beer Works project.


“This is relative to our alcohol licenses,” Town Administrator John Petrin said while introducing the topics. “These three are currently not operating as intended. These licenses are important to the town because they brings in meals tax and we want to get their statuses.”


Petrin said the discussion on Monday was not a hearing but that on December 18 the town has to renew all licenses for the new year.


Bonefish Grill


The first up was Bonefish Grill, which closed in January.


Attorney Timothy Perry, filling in to represent the restaurant, said that Bonefish Grill is owned by Bloomin Brands, which has closed a number of stores over the last year. Currently they are looking for another company to transfer the license to but that process was slowed after the property owners of Wayside stated they were not interested in having another restaurant fill that location.


“What we’d like to do is find another transferee within in the next three to four months,” Perry said. “We have an interested party and we don’t think it will be difficult.”


Members of the board said they wanted to have a clear answer soon.


“You had a year, why should we give you an additional five to six months?” Selectman Bob Hogan asked. “We’ve already lost a year of revenue for the town so why should we give you more time?”


Perry said he things the benefit to the town is that the company will work to find and transfer the license to a brand of “similar value.” He also said they are currently in talks with the Darden Company, the largest restaurant group in the country.


Board members said they still wanted details sooner rather than later. They voted to hold a revocation hearing on December 18 and said that for the license to be renewed they would need to see progress and details of a plan.


Perry said he was sure the business owners would comply with the request.


“They will understand the message that you sent today,” he said.


Burlington Beer Works


The next up was Burlington Beer Works, which is not a closed business but one that hasn’t opened yet nor shown any signs of being under development.


The issue, according to members of the board, was that the liquor license transfer from the former Outback Steakhouse was approved in April of 2016. They wanted to know why a year and a half later there was no sign of work being done on the property.


Attorney Paul Sporn, who was representing Beer Works owner Joseph Slesar of Slesar Brothers Brewing Company, said the permitting process for the project was well underway and that he had spoken with Burlington Builder Inspector John Clancy earlier that day.


“As of this morning Mr. Clancy has everything he requires,” he said. “He said he thinks he will issue the permit this week and my client is ready to start construction immediately.”


Petrin pushed back a little, saying the business should be further along by now.


“In March the plans were being finalized and they said they would need six months for construction,” he said. “I think you’ve seen my emails asking ‘where are they?’”


Sporn said there were some delays, in big part because the plans for the building changed last fall and they needed to get a special permit for the alterations. He also said that his client does not have the resources of many of the big restaurant companies that have been opening up locations in Burlington.


“Slesar Brothers is not a nation-wide company, it is not a company with five or six different brands under its umbrella,” he said. “In every way it is a small family business. It has been around for 25 years and has never closed a restaurant and they are looking forward to locating in Burlington and being part of this vibrant community.”


Members of the board seemed receptive but skeptical, demanding that, like with Bonefish, they wanted more details on December 18.

“We are in same situation and when it comes time for the renewal hearing we should have representatives from Burlington Beer Works come to us with specific plans,” Hogan said. “Then we’ll make a decision if we can and approve the license for the year and then have another hearing. If after six months they are still not close to being done I say we revoke the license.”


“For two years a liquor license we control has been held hostage,” Selectman Jim Tigges added. “I’m all in favor of giving you to the 18th but I want to see some movement forward.”


In the end the board voted to hold a license revocation hearing on December 18th.


Romano's Macaroni Grill


The Romano’s Macaroni Grill situation brought less heat from the members of the board.


Attorney Andrew Upton and Attorney Perry said there were already plans in place to transfer the license to a new entity that is looking to occupy the location. Upton said that paperwork to transfer the license to Eddie V’s, a high-end seafood restaurant and a business under the Darden Restaurant Company (who also own Capital Grille and Seasons 52), has already been filed with the town.


One hold-up, Upton said, was $39,000 in back taxes left unpaid by Romano’s when the company filed for bankruptcy in October. Given the timing the license will need to renewed under the Romano name and in order for that to happen the taxes need to be paid.


Hogan suggested the board schedule the public hearing for the 18th to renew the license. He said the applicants should bring a list of what needs to happen for the transfer to occur and they can talk about a schedule so the board knows the project is moving along.


Petrin said they should come and talk with the town on December 8th to work out any issues with the taxes.


Attorney George Katsarakes, speaking for the landlord, said that once approval of the transfer is granted the project should move quickly.


“We already have a binding lease signed. pending the permit for new building,” he said. “And we already have a signed liquor license sale so this liquor license will be changing quickly to new holder if that is approved by the state.”


Members of the board said they were happy to hear that.  


“I am encouraged by what I’m hearing and am willing to work with you go get passed some of these hurdles,” Selectman Mike Runyan said.


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