Molly Broder thinks it’s time her customers are able to sip an Aperol spritz cocktail while enjoying their prosciutto and Gorgonzola.
Right now, the Minneapolis city charter says she can’t. That’s because her south Minneapolis eatery, Terzo, isn’t located within a 7-acre area of commercially zoned businesses, so she can serve only beer and wine. That means no hard liquor.
“We should be able to give this option to our customers if we choose,” said Broder. “And in the [current] charter, we would not have the opportunity to even think about that for our restaurants.”
That could change in November. Over the next seven weeks, Broder and other restaurateurs will try to persuade Minneapolis voters to mark “yes” on city ballot question 1. That would eliminate what they consider an outdated ordinance that puts neighborhood restaurants at a disadvantage in a market where craft cocktails are the rage.
The outreach is just beginning, and customers for restaurants supporting the cause will soon begin seeing “Vote Yes on 1 Minneapolis” slogans on the walls and coasters while eating dinner, and in the bill sleeve when they get the check.
Those behind the campaign acknowledge a tough road ahead in getting through to voters on the proposed change of the little-known law in time for a heated midterm election focused on weightier issues.
“We’ve got a lot of people to contact,” said Minneapolis Charter Commissioner Matt Perry.
But Minneapolis voters have proved willing in recent years to discard decades-old restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the city.
Perry, who is also president of the Southwest Business Association, said he’s been hearing complaints from restaurant owners about the charter problem for years, which led him to introduce the amendment to the commission this summer. Voters will have to approve it by a 55 percent majority in order for it to pass.
From 70 to 75 restaurants could start serving hard liquor if the charter change goes through, Perry said.
This campaign is the latest to loosen alcohol-related laws statewide and locally. The “Surly bill” in 2011 opened the door for dozens of small breweries to begin serving their products on site. Last year, the state legalized the sale of alcohol on Sundays, lifting a century-old prohibition.
This year’s “Vote yes” campaign comes on the heels of Minneapolis restaurant owners banding together in 2014 for a successful push to change the food-to-alcohol ratio citywide to be less burdensome on the businesses.
At the same time, the city has been placing higher demands on these businesses in the way of new laws requiring a higher minimum wage and more safe-and-sick time for employees, said City Council Member Linea Palmisano.
“I feel like this is one small way that we can help small restaurant owners be successful,” she said.
Currently, neighborhood Minneapolis restaurants looking to circumvent the liquor charter rules have to go to the Legislature. The process is time-consuming and can be expensive, often requiring the business owners to hire a lobbyist.
Council Member Andrew Johnson said he favors the charter change because it would allow businesses to go through the city’s liquor license process instead of jumping through “flaming hoops of fire” at the Capitol.
“I think it just makes sense,” said Johnson.
But many businesses do go through the legislative workaround. At least 25 have successfully done so, according to city records. That’s why Tilia, a bistro in Linden Hills, can only serve beer and wine, but a restaurant one block away boasts a full cocktail list.
“It’s just about evening the playing field and making the process more fair,” said Steven Joel Brown, owner of Tilia. “It should be my choice.”
Broder said she increasingly sees restaurants with liquor exemptions from the state surrounding Terzo, and she fears limiting small restaurants could ultimately hurt Minneapolis’ dining scene.
“We are being touted as a really great foodie town,” she said. “Well, if we want to continue down that path and have these great little neighborhood restaurants and be a foodie town, then I think it’s really essential that we modernize this aspect.”
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036