Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control suspended popular watering hole Escafé’s license to sell mixed drinks for the seemingly oxymoronic problem of selling too much booze. In Virginia, where bars are prohibited by Prohibition-era regulations, licensees have to have 45 percent of their sales in food, and if customers prefer drinking over dining, well, that’s just too bad and restaurants face prohibitive fines.
Ask Escafé owner Todd Howard, who couldn’t sell mixed drinks for 15 days in February and had to pony up a $1,000 fine as well, reduced from what was originally a 30-day suspension and $2,500 fine. That was for 2014-2015, and when he filed his receipts for 2015-2016 in March, he found himself in the same boat.
“It’s difficult to be in this business in this town with the ratio the way it is,” he says.
A bill that would lower the food ratio to 25 percent of sales was introduced in the General Assembly this year by Virginia Beach Republican Delegate Scott Taylor, but it was carried over to 2017.
Restaurateurs have long complained about the state’s ABC regulations that seem written by Carrie Nation, with moral disapproval of drinking in general and bars in particular.
Howard had an administrative hearing with the ABC August 22, and he’s awaiting the ruling.
“The only thing that keeps me holding on is hope they change the ratio,” he says. “It would be a shame to have a law-abiding and code-abiding licensee to go by the wayside if the code changes.”