Mpls. Voters to Decide Fate of Neighborhood Restaurant Alcohol Sales Rule

Updated: 06/04/2014 10:25 PM By: Stephen Tellier

Minneapolis voters will decide whether dozens of restaurants should be allowed to sell more beer and wine.

Restaurant owners are taking aim at a rule they say is holding them back. And on Wednesday, they got their wish to get the issue on the ballot in November.

The rule in question only applies to restaurants in residential areas of Minneapolis. The owner of one such restaurant told the Charter Commission, "I just want to be allowed to run my business the way our customers want to use it."

Blackbird bills itself as a "cozy, casual corner restaurant," snuggled up at 38th and Nicollet.

"I think it's just kind of an eclectic menu," said Chris Stevens, co-owner of Blackbird.

But in addition to that menu, a petition also greets customers as they walk in. It seeks to change the city's charter. Blackbird is one of 70 neighborhood restaurants subject to the so-called 70/30 rule included in it.

"That means 70 percent of our sales have to be food, and 30 percent can be beer or wine," Stevens said.

Stevens said in the age of costly craft brews and fine wines, that rule is a relic.

"You buy an $8 glass of wine and a $10 sandwich, and you're not meeting that percentage," Stevens said.

And 70/30 isn't the only charter restriction currently reviled by restaurants.

"If you go out to eat at a restaurant, you come here, you want to have a nice meal. You sit down, you order yourself a glass of beer -- that's technically not legal. We have to have a full meal in front of you before we can give you that beer," Stevens said.

The issue of ditching those beer and wine requirements came before the Charter Commission on Wednesday.

"It's about a perception of fairness, and I, as a business owner, don't feel that I'm being treated very fairly," said Gail Mollner, co-owner of Blackbird.

Several restaurant owners at the public hearing were sporting stickers that read, "Fair Deal, Square Meal" - for themselves, and their customers.

"They're upset because it's confusing, because they can go up the street to another restaurant that doesn't have these restrictions placed on them, and that puts us at a huge competitive disadvantage," said Molly Duffin, owner of Kings.

The commissioners voted unanimously to ask the people of Minneapolis whether they agree with her.

Restaurant owners say they've gathered about 6,000 signatures as part of the effort to overturn the 70/30 rule.

The city council is now in charge of drafting the language that will appear on the ballot in November.