Restaurants in East Baton Rouge Parish can now stay open Sundays even if half of their gross monthly sales are for alcoholic beverages.
The change in parish law — which used to allow a maximum of 40 percent of sales to be for alcoholic beverages — took place immediately after Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting.
The Metro Council voted 7 to 4 in favor of amending the city-parish’s wine, beer and liquor ordinance, a change proposed by District 7 Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle.
“I wanted to do this for economic development reasons. I want restaurants to stay open and flourish. That means more money for businesses and more money for the parish,” Marcelle said Friday.
Marcelle and Metro Council members Trae Welch, Chandler Loupe, Scott Wilson, Mike Walker, Joel Boe and Alison Gary voted in favor of the change.
Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, Tara Wicker and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois voted against the change.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison was absent.
Before the change, the parish ordinance required restaurants to sell 60 percent nonalcoholic goods in order to stay open on Sundays.
Now, a business must gross 50 percent of its total monthly revenue from the sale of food or other nonalcoholic beverages.
Marcelle said the old ordinance was having a negative economic impact on Baton Rouge.
“I know of one place where the owners had to shut down their business because they were having trouble meeting the quota,” Marcelle said.
Bourgeois, owner of George’s Restaurant under the overpass off Perkins Road, said he voted against the change because he thought the old standard was working fine.
“Back years ago, I remember someone telling me that the parish ABC office was going to pay me a visit about the amount of my food sales,” Bourgeois said, referring to the Alcoholic Beverage Control office.
“We worked real hard to increase our food sales so we were in compliance with the law,” Bourgeois said. “I don’t think you go to a politician and cry about the law or try to get the law in compliance with you.”
Marcelle said her proposal was not about one business complaining, but changing an outdated law as the city-parish grows.
“That law was almost 30 years old. As the city grows, you need to change with that growth,” Marcelle said.
“For me it’s a common sense issue.
Marcelle said she didn’t understand why East Baton Rouge Parish’s food and alcohol sales ratio didn’t match the state’s ratio.
The state requirement for restaurants to be open Sunday is for 50 percent of sales to be nonalcoholic, Marcelle said.
“We’re one of the few cities in the state with the 60-40 requirement,” Marcelle said last month while talking about the proposal.
Ryan Fairman, general manager of the downtown-based Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant, said his restaurant was forced to close on Sundays because food sales were just shy of the 60 percent requirement.
“We were hitting around 54 percent food when we were open on Sundays,” Fairman said of the eatery.
Fairman said his restaurant has been closed on Sundays for almost eight months.
“We are very excited by the change in the law. We are planning to open back up on Sundays as soon as possible,” Fairman said.
City-Parish ABC and Gaming Director Chris Cranford said there are 487 bars and restaurants with a Class A license in the parish. The Class A license allows those businesses to sell alcohol for consumption at the business.
Of the 487 businesses, 247 of them have a permit to open on Sundays and must adhere to the food and alcohol sales ratio, Cranford said.
Twenty-three of the 487 are restaurants and do not have permits to open on Sundays, Cranford said. The last 217 businesses are bars, they don’t have the permits and cannot open on Sundays.
Cranford said when the proposal to make the change was first discussed, he had concerns about tons of local businesses trying to get the permits to open on Sundays.
However, in looking at the numbers, Cranford said, he is not expecting a large amount of businesses to seek the license.
“We are expecting maybe a handful,” Cranford said.
If any of the 217 bars would want to apply for the license, they would have to install a fully-equipped kitchen.
“That’s kind of expensive just to be open one extra day,” Cranford said.
“Also, if those bars tried to get the license, they couldn’t allow smokers. So they would drive all the smoking customers away,” Cranford said.
Marcelle said when you make it easier for businesses to stay open, the more chance you have of businesses locating to Baton Rouge.