Painting franchise hopeful Metro Council amends ordinance

Corks N Canvas was never supposed to be a bar.

Business co-owners Cathy Deano and Renee Maloney just want to offer painting classes, while allowing patrons to bring a bottle of wine or beverage of choice to make the event a more social occasion.

Just like their franchise’s name, they say the experience is “Painting With a Twist.”

But more than a year ago, the owners were contacted by the parish’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Office and told that they must conform to regulations imposed on bars because alcohol was being consumed on the premises.

Since then Corks N Canvas has been forced to make changes that fly in the face of its business model.

The most painful changes included closing Sundays and forbidding children from participating, which Manager Jennifer Cupit said amounted to about 25 percent of the business’ revenues.

Deano and Maloney also have had to spend about $20,000 on infrastructure, materials, legal fees and other compliance upgrades.

Additional restrooms and sinks were installed, and employees attended classes to receive certification from the parish to sell alcohol.

“We’ve been in this business since 2007, with four stores and 58 franchises, and we’ve never had an incident like this,” Deano said.

But this week, the Metro Council will consider changing its local ordinances to allow the business to operate under its original model.

The Metro Council action, sponsored by Councilwoman Alison Gary, was prompted by a letter from Troy Hebert, commissioner of the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office, who said he does not think the business should have to be regulated like a bar.

“The government is trying to make them become something that they’re not,” Hebert said in an interview. “They’re not a bar, but we’re almost forcing them to be one.”

He said because the business was not selling or handling alcohol, then it should be allowed to let patrons bring their own without having to conform to codes for a bar.

Cupit said Corks N Canvas was embracing the transformation because management had no other choice.

She said the business was in the process of getting its state and local alcohol permits, and was going to sell bottles of wine on site.

But she said if the Metro Council agrees to change local ordinances the business would revert back to its original plan immediately.

“We don’t want to make money on alcohol,” Cupit said. “That’s what we were most afraid of — that our customers would think we were doing all of this because we’re trying to profit. But all we want to do is teach art.”

But Hebert said local ordinances trump state alcohol laws in this case, so if the Metro Council upholds current laws, then the business would have to continue with its transformation.

“I don’t want to do anything to hamper their business,” Hebert said. “If they tell me they want a permit, I’ll give them one, but I don’t want to give them one if it’s not necessary.”

ABC Director Chris Cranford said he “had no problem” with changing local ordinances.

Corks N Canvas’ “bring your own booze” model didn’t fit into any of the current regulations, so ABC was forced to interpret the law the best it could, Cranford said.

When Painting and Pinot, another business of the same concept, opened in November, it was forced to adhere to bar rules, such as no children on the premises and closing on Sundays.

“I called the ABC to find out what the rules were and they said we could not do a ‘BYOB’ business. I was kind of shocked because I knew Corks N Canvas did,” owner Violet Tremblay said.

But Tremblay said she’s unsure if she’d change her business model if the local ordinance was amended.

“We’ve already invested so much with the wine inventory, doing everything for the Board of Health — we had to install five different types of sinks,” she said, but added that she’d love to be able to do kids parties. “I just wish there was some sort of commonsense medium.”

Cupit said she is most excited about the prospect of bringing back kids parties, which have been very popular in the past.

“It’s been a headache, and there’s been a lot of red tape,” Cupit said. “But if it ended up going back, then that would just be a win for us.”