December 18 2017

Selectmen Revoke Liquor License of Closed Restaurant

By: Rich Hosford

In a split decision the Board of Selectmen voted to revoke the liquor license of a business that owns a restaurant in town that has been closed for roughly a year, a move that could potentially put a deal-in-the-making for a new restaurant in jeopardy.


During Monday night meeting the board voted 3-2 to revoke the license from the closed Bonefish Grill location due to inactivity. Selectmen Joe Morandi (also board vice chair), Jim Tigges and Mike Runyan voted in favor of the revocation and Chairman Chris Hartling and Selectman Bob Hogan voted against the action.


As reported on BNEWS, the license was up for the revocation hearing due to the fact that the restaurant had been closed since January and the town had not received sufficient information on what Bonefish’s parent company, Bloomin Brands, planned to do with it. During the board’s last meeting in November an attorney for the restaurant group said it was currently looking for another company to transfer the license to.


During that meeting Attorney Timothy Perry, representing the restaurant group, said the process of finding a new business for the license was slowed because the landlord of the Bonefish Grill location, the Wilder Company, which owns the Wayside plaza, had indicated it was not interested in seeing the business replaced with another restaurant.


However on Monday the town received a letter from Wilder Company disputing this claim. In the letter it says “In contrast to statements we believe were made at the November 27th Selectmen’s meeting, we wanted to clarify that the Landlord is actively pursuing restaurants for the space, and not ‘going in another direction.’ This in fact could not be further from the truth.”


This statement was a likely factor in the board’s eventual decision to revoke the license, though there was put forward a plan for it at the meeting.


Attorney Joseph Devlin, of Devlin Law Offices LLC, was at the meeting representing Darden Restaurants, a large restaurant group with many well-known entities under its umbrella. He said one of those entities, Yard House, an American sports bar chain, was in negotiations to purchase the license from Bloomin Brands.


Devlin said Darden was looking to open a Yard House at the current site of Chili’s at 108 Middlesex Turnpike but it first needed to be sure it would have a liquor license for the project before signing any lease agreement.


Editor’s Note: BNEWS has not seen any reports that Chili’s is closing or changing location nor was there time between the end of the meeting and the filing of this report to seek verification. We will update with more information if, and when, it becomes available.


Members of the Board of Selectmen asked Devlin why Darden was not working out an agreement with Chili’s for its license if they planned to take over its location. Devlin said he was not party to those talks or decisions but knew only that there was a draft of a Purchase and Sale for the license formerly held by Bonefish. Devlin said he expected that the Purchase and Sale would be signed within the next 24 hours.


He also argued the Yard House project would be a benefit to the town. He said Darden was planning to tear down the existing building and build a new, “state of the art” building at a cost between $8-$10 million.


Members of the board expressed some frustration at how long the license had been out of commission, and therefore not contributing to the town’s meal tax, and also at how little firm commitments there were for this proposed plans.


“Do you have any written documentation backing up what you’ve said tonight,” Tigges asked Devlin, pointing out that the board had been promised a signed Purchase and Sale prior to Monday night’s meeting.


Devlin said he had a lot of emails between the parties showing talks about the negotiations. He also said the board had his “word as an attorney” with a long history of working on these types of agreements in the state. He also argued that working out these arrangements can be complicated.


“These are two large, national, companies,” he said. “These things take time.”


Hogan also said he was concerned about “pulling the rug” from under The Wilder Companies, a well known and respected landlord in town with a highly-trafficked plaza.


In the end the board was faced with revoking the license, continuing the hearing to a future meeting or renewing the license.


It was Morandi who made the motion to revoke it and bring the license back under town control. The 3-2 vote approved the measure.


The issue is likely not over, however. Town Administrator John Petrin pointed out that the restaurant group would be able to appeal that decision at the state’s Alcohol Beverages Control Commission.


During the discussion Devlin said that if the license was revoked he would be forced to do exactly that. If that happens the town will need to use Town Counsel to defend the Board of Selectmen’s decision.


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