WILMINGTON—A few bar owners in Wilmington are weighing their options while considering Gov. Roy Cooper’s new executive order, EO183, that authorizes the North Carolina ABC Commission to permit bars and restaurants to do delivery or carry-out mixed beverages until closing time.
“Well I’ll be damned. Welcome to the 21st century,” Scott Wagner, owner of Goat and Compass, said when he found out about the order.
Nationwide, small restaurants and bars make an $899 billion economic impact, yet haven’t received federal government relief through the pandemic, other than Paycheck Protection Program loans. While some states across the nation have more lax alcohol laws and approve of mixed-beverage sales to-go, North Carolina’s General Assembly could not agree on an amendment that was later dropped from a Covid-19 bill in April that would have allowed some kind of relief for a hard-hit industry in a pandemic year (the bill was co-sponsored by local Senator Harper Peterson).
Jo Apkarian, owner of downtown Wilmington’s Pour House, pointed to outdated ABC regulations as a hindrance to a lot of business opportunity for bar and restaurant owners in North Carolina. Considering them now 10 months later, Apkarian said, was too little too late. The amount of to-go sales his bar would have to do at this point, after being shuttered since March, would have to be pretty impressive.
“The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” Apkarian wrote to Port City Daily. “Me having a bartender at the bar selling what, coffee shots to go? Maybe do it large scale, like a growler? We would have to be really moving some volume for this to be worth it.”
Wagner and his business partner Brian Fritz shut down their Brooklyn Art District’s bar, Goat and Compass, on Mar. 17. They took the opportunity to do some renovations, thinking they’d be up again by summer.
“I didn’t think we’d be shut down 240-some days,” Wagner said. “I was thinking, ‘Man, by July 4th we will be back open.’ July 4th came and went, then Labor Day came and went. I told my wife, ‘I don’t know if we’re gonna make it.'”
Had it not been for helpful landlords working with the bar owners and easing rent, Wagner said they would have been closed by now. Once they finally reopened on Oct. 23, it was under Cooper’s 30% capacity rule and outdoor only. For Goat, it means only serving 13 customers at a time.
Being able to sell to-go mixed drinks could be a game-changer, according to Wagner, who said his neighborhood clientele likely would stop in for takeaway gin-and-tonics or vodka-and-sodas in show of support. It also means increasing some overhead by stocking up on to-go cups.
“Seeing as this [executive order] just came through while we’ve been talking, there will have to be some research,” Wagner added. “It would be silly not to take advantage of it; I just need to know the parameters.”
An hour later, after reviewing the order, Wagner backtracked.
“Yah I’m probably not going to participate,” he said. “Unless this grey area is clarified.”
The part he refers to is about keeping to-go drinks sealed:
“The container shall be secured by the Permitted Seller so that no mixed beverages can be removed without breaking a seal that is incapable of being resealed except by Permitted Seller. No drink shall be sold or delivered if the seal is broken.”
Jimmy Gilleece, owner of Jimmy’s at Wrightsville Beach, was scouring the details and considered putting his to-go drinks in a mason jar.
“I’ve got to talk to my consultant and see what exactly we have to do,” he said. “But whatever it is, we’re going to do it.”
Gilleece pointed to one of his famed beverages that would top the to-go list: Jimmy’s Slushie — Red Bull and Deep Eddy’s vodka.
“On a busy night, we go through 30 gallons of it,” he explained.
However the order shakes out in the end, it’s leaving more questions than answers, once again — and for business owners who have already had enough mental gymnastics for one year.
“But you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube,” Wagner said, pointing to long-term implications of broaching to-go drinks.
“While an important step in the right direction in regard to addressing the antiquated, Draconian and, frankly, stupid laws our state still has on the books for most shuttered bar owners, at least in my estimation, this conjures thoughts of Marie Antoinette,” Apkarian said. “I only like my cake when it’s not being used as a misdirect to keep my business still shut down.”
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