Restaurants find license requirements strict

By Tony Parra

Six months after Portales voters approved to have a beer and wine license option for restaurants, the city has yet to receive any applications.
On Sept. 21, a beer and wine license option for restaurants passed by 36 votes — 374 for and 338 votes against. While the license is significantly less expensive than a liquor license, there are many more regulations from the New Mexico Department of Alcohol and Gaming.
One is that a licensed establishment cannot be within 300 feet of a church, school or military installation. In a city with more than 40 churches and eight public school campuses, many restaurants are geographically disqualified.
Vinnie Banda, co-owner of Wagon Wheel, said owners are interested in applying for a license but are unsure of the restaurant’s proximity to the First Presbyterian Church.
“We would like to be able to offer our customers the option,” Banda said. “We’re checking into it to see if we can.”
If the measurement is made from property to property, Banda said the church is within 300 feet. However, he believes the entrances to each may be more than 300 feet apart.
Juan Garza, owner of Juanito’s in Portales and Clovis, said he is filling out the paperwork and intends to send in an application next month.
If Garza applies, his restaurant will be the first. Portales city clerk Joan Martinez-Terry said she received calls from Pizza Hut representatives in January, but has not received any other correspondence regarding a license.
Garza said before the beer and wine licenses were available, it was an unfair advantage for larger restaurants that could afford a liquor license.
“We want to give the customer the option to have it with their meals,” Garza said. “In our restaurant we don’t advertise beer.”
Restaurant owners can pay a one-time fee of $1,050 for the beer and wine license. If a restaurant is granted a license, the owner would pay $250 each year to renew the license, according to Martinez-Terry. Garza said the owners would also pay $250 each year to the Alcohol and Gaming Department of the federal government.
Liquor licenses like the ones that exist at Cattle Baron and formerly at The Roosevelt cost an average of $150,000, according to Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega. Martinez-Terry said those licenses cost $250 to renew each year as well. Ortega said Wal-Mart purchased its liquor license for $300,000.
Garza said Juanito’s Restaurant in Portales is more than 560 feet from a church, and added that the Juanito’s location in Clovis has been operating with a beer and wine license for the last five years.
“The perception is that alcohol is going to cause problems,” Garza said. “That’s not the case. There is so much red tape. There are so many regulations involved, many more than those who have a liquor license.”
Garza said the restaurant owners in Clovis have to pay $30 for each waiter or waitress who serves beer or wine to be certified and trained. If the restaurant loses a certified employee, the employee that replaces them must go through the same certification process (certifications do not transfer from restaurant to restaurant).
Martinez-Terry said that restaurant owners have to send their application to the New Mexico State Department of Alcohol and Gaming. The Portales city clerk’s office receives notice when a restaurant owner has applied, and the city follows up with a hearing.
The beer and wine license comes with restrictions and regulations. The following are a few other restrictions owners must follow:
• The primary source of revenue from the restaurant will be derived from meals and not from the sale of beer and wine.
• At least 60 percent of gross receipts from the preceding 12 months operation of the licensed restaurant must be derived from the sale of meals.
• The restaurant must submit an annual report to the state indicating the annual gross receipts from the sale of meals and from beer and wine sales.
• All sales, services and consumption of beer and wine shall cease at the time meal sales and services stop or at 11 p.m., whichever is earlier.
• Customers are only allowed two drinks at one time. However, there is no limit set on how many drinks a customer can purchase at one sitting. That is up to the server’s discretion.