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Lotus hangs on to liquor license

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Lotus owner Amy Young was allowed to retain her restaurant liquor license issued in name to Planet Palate LLC after repeated violations after explaining her situation to town councilors Monday night. A close eye will be kept on Lotus moving forward, elected leaders said, and one more slip up and revocation proceedings would be assured.

Young explained a case of blurry timelines—that when she was made aware of violations she took steps to immediately correct them. For instance, when Young learned she could not use the word “bar” in her logo or in advertisements, she pulled the offending ads immediately but missed one. Also, after receiving one letter of warning via email, she missed a follow-up email until, “a friend showed me the Buckrail.com story about the letter with stronger language,” Young said in her defense before the council.

Young added, “I’m not a disrespectful person. I clearly understand how it could look like we blatantly disrespected this warning…”

Young further explained that she had not carefully read through the follow up email warning her she was on thin ice with her liquor license. “I would have never held that event,” Young assured, referring to the March 25 late night dance party that took place after an email from the town clerk dated March 17 warning against such events, and the party that was raided by Jackson police. A subsequent DJ party scheduled for April 8 at Lotus has been moved to the Town Square Tavern.

Young apologized for some level of ignorance about how restaurant liquor licenses work, and the town admitted they could do better in the future with more training type workshops, and they genuinely wished Young’s business to succeed.

All liquor licenses not created equal

A restaurant liquor license is something Teton County dreamed up in the 1990s when attorney John Gonnella helped pushed through the unique permit that allows an establishment serving food to also accompany that with the sale of alcohol as long as the food was a primary means of business (defined in state statute by a 60-40 split in annual sales, food to booze). Establishments with restaurant liquor licenses are prohibited from acting like and competing with real bars through numerous restrictions like no cover may be charged, no alcohol sales after kitchen is closed, and no advertising entertainment.

A restaurant liquor license was established then, and is still popular today, because full liquor licenses like the bar and grill license and retail license are hard to come by and expensive. Towns and counties are allowed only so many based on a population formula. In fact, the last time a bar & grill license came up in the town—due to an increase in the 2010 census for Jackson—no less than five restaurants made their pitch in front of town leaders in 2011 for the right to get it. These less restrictive liquor licenses, once issued, have been reportedly changed hands for six figures in the past.

Off the hook

“Many times over the years sitting behind the table I’ve expressed frustration over the state’s liquor laws that are archaic. Nevertheless, I think we have to be careful about these laws. In the past, I’ve been to these events at other restaurants,” councilman Jim Stanford said. “I think this has been a valuable educational exercise and, despite the seriousness of the breach, I would be amendable to a tabling.”

It doesn’t matter how archaic you think it is. Those are the rules under which we live,” Bob Lenz replied, but wanted a continuance as well until town attorney Audrey Cohen-Davis was back from spring break.

Hailey Morton Levinson said she felt better about what Lotus was doing after hearing Young’s testimony.

Don Frank said, “I do extend the benefit of the doubt. People don’t always take the time to educate themselves and they should. I’ll invite this liquor license holder to meet with the police department and go over these definitions. I don’t want to start a revocation process at all.”

Mayor Pete Muldoon had the final word.

“What I would like to see here is this not happen again. I get the sense it probably won’t,” he said. “But this is serious. It important to follow the rules. When you get a license, you understand the rules and you open your emails from the town clerk. It’s not a high bar. I would support tabling for now. I think we all want your business to succeed. I certainly do, I’ve been there it’s a great place.”

The council took no action but urged Young to educate herself and comply in the future.

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Tags: Audrey Cohen-DavisBob LenzDon FrankHailey Morton-LevinsonJim StanfordPete Muldoon

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