Tisbury restaurants get ready to wine and dine

The Tisbury selectmen will hold the first public hearing for beer and wine license applications from restaurants including Zephrus, Saltwater, Waterside Market and Blue Canoe, at 5 pm, on June 8, at town hall.

Although the selectmen hold regular board meetings every other week, they scheduled the public hearing in an off-week in order to meet the licensing process time frame set by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC), according to assistant town administrator Aase Jones.

Although the Black Dog Tavern and Black Dog Café returned completed license application packages on Monday, Ms. Jones said the selectmen limited the review at the June 8 hearing of the first four applications received, given that each is allotted 30 minutes. A subsequent hearing will be held for the Black Dog establishments, and perhaps others that come in this week, in plenty of time to meet the ABCC time constraints, Ms. Jones added.

No easy process

Tisbury’s list of license application requirements includes 16 items. The clock starts ticking on the licensing process as soon as applicants file completed forms and documentation with the selectmen, when the date and hour of filing are noted.

A public hearing notice must be advertised within 10 days after a license application is filed. The hearing, however, may not be held sooner than 10 days after the advertisement. License applicants also are required to notify abutters within 500 feet of their establishments, as certified by the board of assessors.

The selectmen must act on beer and wine license applications within 30 days after they are filed. Once they approve an application, the selectmen have up to three days to forward it to the ABCC.

Selectman Geoghan Coogan, who is familiar with the ABCC’s approval process, as part owner of his family’s Edgartown restaurant, The Wharf, estimates it takes about six to eight weeks.

Within seven days of receipt of the ABCC’s approval of an application, the selectmen must issue a license.

Bottom’s up

This week, The Times asked restaurant owners whose license applications will be reviewed first about how the sale of alcoholic beverages might affect their business.

Susan Goldstein, who co-owns Zephrus Restaurant and Mansion House with her husband Sherm, said the reality of Tisbury’s approval of beer and wine sales on April 28 didn’t sink in until the next day, when beer and wine distributors started calling.

Asked about the potential impact of beer and wine sales on the restaurant’s revenues, Ms. Goldstein said, “I don’t want anyone to think that this is going to be the golden bullet, but certainly after a couple of quirky seasons, it is a nice help as we continue to keep Zephrus on Main Street a year-round destination, a place where people want to go and have a good meal.”

“And hand in hand with that,” she added, “Tips will be better for our staff, and that is very important to us.”

In terms of the initial investment to start selling beer and wine, Ms. Goldstein said infrastructure, rather than inventory, is the bigger expense.

“We have to reconfigure things in order to recycle bottles correctly, keep beverages refrigerated at the right temperature, and put everything in the right place,” Ms. Goldstein said.

“I think it will take a while to amortize the investment,” she added.

Given that business on Main Street was quiet this spring, “A little more action on the street could be a big help,” Ms. Goldstein said.

“If we get more restaurant customers, and then they stroll Main Street and buy gifts and jewelry at shops or books at the Bunch of Grapes, it may make a difference for business owners in paying for their overhead, their help, their light bills,” she explained.

Stephen and Susan Bowen own the Blue Canoe restaurant on Beach Road and Waterside Market on Main Street.

Mr. Bowen said he and his wife plan to keep the same format at Waterside Market, if they receive a beer and wine license. The most significant change would be that the restaurant would close at 4 pm and reopen at 5:30 for dinner, with wait service.

Although he did not venture a guess as to how much beer and wine sales might affect the restaurants’ revenues, Mr. Bowen said, “We’re definitely hoping it will help the bottom line a lot.”

Considering the number of customers lost because they went to another restaurant that served alcoholic beverages, plus revenue lost from bottles of wine customers brought instead of bought, Mr. Bowen said, “I’m sure it will be significant.

Blue Canoe has lost a lot of customers due to not serving alcohol, he noted. “A lot of locals know it’s dry and would come prepared, but visitors would want a drink, and leave when they found out they couldn’t get one,” Mr. Bowen said.

“I remember during July and August, we got one phone call after another,” he added. “People would call and we’d instruct them we were BYOB [bring your own bottle]. A lot of customers brought something, but you never know how many decided to go elsewhere.”

Saltwater Restaurant owner Sam Dunn said he is hoping the addition of beer and wine will make it possible for him to stay open a lot longer into the fall, and maybe even the whole year.

“Vineyard Haven is so dead in winter, it’s been really, really hard to keep a restaurant open and do any business at all,” he said. “We’re hoping this is enough to make us profitable in the season and to break even in the off-season. It’s hard to know what will happen.”

Operating a fine dining establishment that can’t serve alcohol has been difficult, Mr. Dunn said.

“The way the restaurant business has evolved, profit margins are much greater on alcohol than they are on food, partly because there’s much less labor involved,” he pointed out. “A key point is that alcohol sales end up subsidizing the food sales. Without alcohol, you’re hamstrung in trying to be profitable on food alone.”

Although some restaurants tried to offset the loss of revenue from Tisbury’s past practice of “BYOB” with hefty corkage fees, Mr. Dunn said Saltwater did not do that because it causes such huge resentment among patrons.

Looking ahead, he added, “At Saltwater, we’ve always had a menu that went well with good wine, so we’re going to try to get good wines that go with the food we make, and keep in the same price range.”

The owners of Le Grenier, Nicky’s Italian Restaurant and Rocco’s Family Style Italian Restaurant also collected beer and wine license application packages.