Essay: A change in the dining experience, not in West Tisbury’s nature

Last Saturday afternoon, we opened our doors to the West Tisbury community to talk about question two on the April 12 ballot, which would allow beer and wine to be served in restaurants seating 50 or more guests. It would also allow the selectmen to craft regulations for one-day permits for fundraising events. We are the petitioners of the question, along with Bob Jackson of Plane View Restaurant and Kell Hickman and Scott Jones of the Lambert’s Cove Inn Restaurant.

While we didn’t break any Fenway attendance records, it was helpful to have the opportunity to talk directly with people about this proposal. What came across most was the genuine love and affection people have for the town of West Tisbury. The concern we heard was that allowing beer and wine in restaurants could threaten the charm and spirit of this town.

We understand this concern completely and welcome the chance to address it because our affections and loyalty to the town of West Tisbury run deep. Many of our employees live in West Tisbury and some were born and raised here. Others, like us, who might not live in town, love that this is the place where we come to work every day. We, too, don’t want the character of West Tisbury to change.

For us, it begins with the restaurant itself. We worked closely with the town throughout planning. We designed a building that would look like it belonged in West Tisbury, like it had always been here. Even our name — State Road — we chose so it would reflect the town and our place in it. Now that the shingles have weathered a few seasons and the plantings have taken hold, we hope others feel as we do, that State Road complements the rural character of West Tisbury.

Our location also allows us gardens right outside our kitchen door, and nearby farmers keep our pantry stocked and our menus fresh. There simply aren’t many places anywhere in the world where this could so easily and seamlessly happen.

But back to the issue at hand. We do not believe that allowing us to serve beer and wine to our guests will threaten or harm the character or ambience of West Tisbury. Recent reports in the local papers have indicated that everyone — from police, to restaurant operators, to fellow merchants — has found that none of the fears originally associated with beer and wine licenses in Vineyard Haven and Aquinnah ever materialized.

As many of you know, we operated the Sweet Life Cafe and Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs for 12 years before moving to West Tisbury and opening State Road. We had alcohol licenses at both restaurants and never had a single incident. We and our staff took that responsibility seriously, and our guests knew that in our restaurants, it was all about the food and service. It was not about drinking.

We are in the hospitality business, and customers today do have the expectation that they can order a glass of wine or beer with their meals. It’s what they’re able to do in all but a half-dozen towns in the Commonwealth and now on the Island, only two towns remain dry.

We believe that by giving the selectmen the authority to craft regulations and monitor establishments directly, the town gains control. Under a BYOB policy, people come to restaurants with as much of anything as they want, including hard liquor. Now, when we advise our guests that they’ve had enough, we have no actual control over the flow of the alcohol. With a beer and wine license, monitoring and controlling consumption is straightforward. We know from our firsthand experience of operating restaurants with alcohol licenses, it works very well.

The other concern we hear is that granting beer and wine licenses to restaurants will result in an increase to the cost of eating out. We want to assure our customers that if the town does vote to approve question two, we will put together a broad list of offerings, from moderately priced options to the occasional luxury for a special celebration. We’d be foolish to do anything other than that, because it represents our vast and varied customer base.

In closing, we know that often change is not easy. But this initiative is not bringing alcohol into West Tisbury restaurants. It’s already there. Our proposal, the one voters will decide on April 12, simply asks to grant selectmen the authority to issue beer and wine licenses to restaurants, thereby increasing town control and allowing operators to monitor consumption. We respectfully ask West Tisbury voters to vote yes on question two.

Mary and Jackson Kenworth operate State Road restaurant in West Tisbury.