Racing against a new law that prohibits the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control from issuing alcohol variances for restaurants near community locations, new business The Cache Venue successfully obtained a restaurant alcohol license at the DABC commission meeting Tuesday.
The Cache Venue is housed in the former location of Gia’s Italian Restaurant, which had an alcohol license for 35 years before closing two years ago, on 119 S. Main St. in downtown Logan. As the storefront is across the street from Garff Wayside Gardens, permission to serve alcohol requires a local variance from the Logan Municipal Council, granted April 4, and state approval from DABC.
“Taking everything into consideration, the commissioners decided that it was not detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the public there and granted the license,” DABC Director of Communications and Public Information Terry Wood said.
Mark Lunt, owner of The Cache Venue, signed the lease in early February, just as the Utah Legislature was considering a massive set of alcohol-related amendments called HB 442.
There are two major changes in the omnibus legislation that affect proximity of establishments that serve alcohol to community locations, which include churches, schools, libraries, playgrounds or parks. The distance restaurants serving alcohol have to be from a community location was reduced from 600 feet to 300 feet by the shortest pedestrian route, but HB 442 removes the DABC’s authority to issue variances after May 9.
“They cut the distance in half but said no more variances. … It works both ways,” Wood said. “Both for and against the licensees that may have a proximity issue in the future.”
Still, the looming restriction on variances meant Lunt had to race to get his license approved.
“It was hell,” Lunt said.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 442 into law March 28, and DABC accepts alcohol licenses on the 10th of every month, so Lunt had two weeks to get on the Logan Municipal Council agenda and turn in the 40-page application to DABC. He said business often take two or three tries to get alcohol license approval, but with the new law going into effect, Lunt only had one shot.
“If I didn’t get it, my whole business model would have to pivot,” Lunt said.
The building has an industrial kitchen in the back, so Lunt said it really wouldn’t work without an alcohol license. There isn’t a lot of parking at The Cache Venue, so he said it wouldn’t work for fast food, and the building wouldn’t work for retail.
“The difference between getting the license or not could be the difference between whether I pay for my kids’ college or take loans,” Lunt said. “It’s tough; doing a restaurant is very hard.”
Now that the alcohol license is secured, Lunt said he can focus more on the future of the business. The building requires some renovations, but Lunt said it will likely start with Sunday brunch. HB 442 brings some good news on that front. Restaurants are now allowed to start serving alcohol on the weekends at 10:30 a.m. instead of 11:30.
Lunt has plans for The Cache Venue to host special events, private parties and live music. They currently host an escape room called Escape Logan.
Logan Downtown Alliance Manager Gary Saxton said it sounds like it will be a fun venue — much better than an empty building.
“That property has been vacant and blighted for two years, so we’re glad to see higher and better use of that property,” Saxton said.
A new live music venue is particularly appealing. The Cache Venue is larger than WhySound, and Saxton said it will help build the Logan downtown music scene.
He said he is well aware of the new law and the effects it might have on future Logan businesses. With the LDS Tabernacle right in the center of downtown, he said it creates a barrier for restaurants that want to serve alcohol.
“If alcohol is a major component of your business model, then you won’t be looking at downtown for that in the future, that’s for sure,” Saxton said.
According to Wood, that isn’t really a big problem in other cities in Utah.
“It’s more common in Logan,” he said.
Even with a Tabernacle and a park in downtown, The Cache Venue is the second local business to successfully navigate the alcohol variance process this year. Yoga studio Tanaka Balance on Federal Avenue recently gained approval to serve beer and wine. When both businesses approached the Logan Municipal Council, only one council member gave a dissenting vote.
Gene Needham said it’s a moral principle. He said it’s bad to make people think they should treat themselves to alcohol when they go out to eat.
“It’s a debilitating habit and it’s bad for our society, and I can’t understand why all five of us didn’t vote against it,” Needham said.
He said it may help downtown, but it’s the wrong message to send the community.
“I’m still opposed to alcohol, period,” Needham said. “I don’t want my children, I don’t want my grandchildren, I don’t want anybody else’s children addicted to that.”