The popular downtown music venue Artmosphere can keep serving beer, wine and liquor after the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control ruled Wednesday that the business is selling just barely enough food to keep its liquor license.
Food sales are an issue because the Lafayette City-Parish Council in 2003 banned any additional bars downtown. So Artmosphere is allowed to sell alcohol only if it operates as a restaurant and keeps average monthly food sales above 50 percent of total revenue.
Artmosphere has struggled to hit that mark, but owner Beryl Moody offered sales figures Wednesday for the past few months that put her average food sales barely over the 50 percent hurdle, by less than one percent.
That was good enough for ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert, who was clearly sympathetic to the predicament of a club with a good reputation and no history of underage alcohol sales.
It also has the strong support of local musicians, many of whom showed up Wednesday morning at Lafayette City Hall to speak up for Artmosphere, which opened on the corner of Johnston and Convent streets in 2003.
“People don’t go there to drink. They go there to see music or have some other cultural experience,” said Andrew Toups, keyboardist with the local band Feufollet .
Artmosphere, Toups told Hebert, is much more than a bar.
“It serves a function for me that is much higher and more precious than that, for me and for the rest of the city,” he said.
Moody said she was gratified by the community support she has received in the months of wrangling with the permit issues.
“It has been overwhelming,” she said.
The Wednesday hearing might have been avoided had Moody sought the services of a good bookkeeper early on in her business venture, Hebert said.
The food sales figures initially submitted by Moody to ATC for recent months didn’t meet the 50 percent requirement, but revised figures prepared with the help of a lawyer and bookkeeper who carefully reviewed her business records pushed the food sales just above 50 percent.
Hebert found that the earlier submission s by Moody used varying time ranges for averaging out sales and did not fully account for food receipts.
“Probably, we wouldn’t even be here today if we had been given the statistics recently provided to us,” Hebert said.
ATC had required Artmosphere to submit monthly food sales reports, but Hebert said that based on the recent figures, Artmosphere can return to submitting annual reports.
Hebert told Moody that the business can keep its liquor license as long as average sales over the course of the year “very solidly shows you are a restaurant,” even if food sales dip below 50 percent for a month or two.
“The last thing we ever want to do is close a good business,” Hebert said. “This is not a bad establishment. This is a law-abiding establishment.”
Moody said she has worked to boost food sales — launching a Sunday brunch, renovating the kitchen, adding a new dining area, focusing more on take-out and delivery.
She also spent nearly $30,000 in an effort to keep her food above 50 percent of revenues, buying the food herself and donating it to local businesses.
That effort was for naught, Hebert said, because ATC cannot consider bulk food purchases by an owner in determining whether food sales clear the 50 percent threshold.
“Before you go out and spend the type of money you spent, come and ask us,” he said.