ST. GEORGE – A local business manager is breathing a sigh of relief after a months-long battle with the Utah liquor commission.
Patrons of La Frontera in the Green Valley Mall will finally be able to have a cold beer with their burritos.
“We are so excited,” La Frontera manager Terry Montano said. “Customers are so excited … as well as us.”
“We’ve been open since November. We figured a beer license would take a couple of months, and it ended up, obviously, taking a lot longer than that.”
“(It’s a) huge relief, let’s just say,” Montano said, “because we’ll have happy customers this weekend, and it’s one less stress.”
The Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission approved La Frontera’s beer-only liquor license at a monthly meeting held last week; the license was granted and beer will be served at the restaurant as soon as Montano’s distributors deliver it, she said.
“It’s huge,” Montano said. “Most people want to have beer with their Mexican food.”
Montano started the process of getting a beer license from the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission several months ago, but was denied a license and told she needed to prove an “unmet need.”
To serve any kind of alcohol, a business needs two licenses – one from the municipality and one from the state. St. George City was quick to approve the license, Montano said, however the state was a different matter.
The issue was complicated by a nearby chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah law prohibits alcohol from being served within 600 feet of a church, school or park. In cases where a business is within the 600-foot limit, the church, park or school has the right to weigh in on the issue.
Even if the entity objects, licenses can still be granted if the business can prove that there is a need for the establishment, that the business could fill that need and that the need cannot be easily filled nearby.
Adding another layer of complexity, the liquor commission announced in May that it would make it harder for businesses located near churches to get liquor licenses, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Previously, when the LDS church has not spoken up about a proposed license the omission was considered “tacit approval,” the Salt Lake Tribune, reported, however, the church has since stated that taking no action does not imply neutrality.
In La Frontera’s case, Montano started applying for the license in April. In May, she went before the commission with a petition signed by 250 people who wanted beer sold at the restaurant but was again denied.
At the June meeting, Montano went back with what she thought was all the information the commission wanted. She gave the commission information about the total population of St. George, the growth in the area and how the license would serve an unmet need.
In addition, the previous tenant, also a Mexican restaurant, had a beer license, which should have made the process easier and was a factor in the decision to pick the location, she said.
“The place before us, in the same exact spot, was named Rosa’s and had a beer license,” Montano said. That didn’t help the process, however, because there was a gap of a few months when the location was vacant, she said.
No license was granted at the June meeting either. Although a motion was made to grant the license, the four commissioners present at the meeting voted 2-2 and it did not pass.
“It was just frustrating,” Montano said. “When I walked out, I just lost it. I was crying because we did what they asked – I felt we had given them everything … ”
Montano was unable to attend the July meeting, but Nina McDermott, the director of licensing and compliance for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, offered to help in her absence.
“Their suggestion was … for us is that we could find a new location, move to that location … basically, can you move to a different location,” Montano said.
“We have a lease, you can’t just do that,” she said. She was told that it wasn’t the commission’s concern.
There are no reasonable alternative locations La Frontera could move to, and even if they did, there would still be an unmet need for beer at their current location, Montano said.
McDermott was able to show the commission that the area near La Frontera is mostly residential and there are no other nearby commercial areas to relocate to.
McDermott also told the commission that in St. George, there is one restaurant with alcohol service for every 1,700 residents, Montano said. By contrast, Park City has one such restaurant for every 88 residents; in Moab, the ratio is one per 181 residents.
The commission voted 5-0 to approve the license.
The La Frontera restaurant group has been in operation for more than 30 years, Montano said, and is owned by family members.
There are eight restaurants along the Wasatch Front. The St. George location at 567 So. Valley View Drive No. 201 in the Green Valley Mall opened in November 2015.
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