Restaurants struggling to stay in business and customers thirsty for an adult beverage with their to-go food orders could be more loudly exclaiming “TGIF” tomorrow.
A proposal that would allow restaurants to sell wine and beer with takeout food orders until the state’s mandatory shutdown ends is expected to be on the House Floor Friday.
Sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Marys Point), SF4489 was passed 65-2 by the Senate Thursday. A couple hours later, the House Commerce Committee held an informational remote hearing on the bill components. It has not formally been introduced as a bill in the House.
Gov. Tim Walz has expressed support for the legislation, which would allow businesses to sell up to one bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer, cider or hard seltzer in their original, unopened packaging. The beer and wine could only be picked up, not delivered. Cities would be allowed to prohibit such sales by resolution.
Bars and restaurants have been ordered closed by the state until at least May 4 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, but lawmakers are trying to help restaurants with liquor licenses weather the pandemic by allowing them to sell some alcoholic beverages with takeout.
Mike Jennings, owner of three west metro restaurants and a board member of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said restaurants don’t normally have a lot of cash in reserve, and 10% to 30% of them won’t be able to weather this shutdown, which will increase unemployment when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
It’s costing Jennings $24,000 per month to close one of his restaurants. He said most restaurants have tried to offer takeout with mixed results. Offering wine and beer may help them make a little extra money.
“Anything we can do to chip away at our debt is really, really important,” he said.
Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said the change would provide much-needed revenue to a cash-strapped hospitality industry that’s being “financially crushed.”
Some businesses have already permanently shuttered and more could fall in the next few months. “This is an economic disaster,” she said.
Craft brewers would also like more options for off-sale. Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, said 79% of craft breweries will close within the next six months if the shutdown continues.
“I am saddened and fearful for these breweries,” she said.
Lon Larson, co-owner of Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, said he supports the bill but wishes it went farther to help taprooms. He’s lost over 60% of sales and slashed half his staff.
Tom Hanson, representing The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, urged lawmakers to include distilled spirits, since they are the highest margin item for alcohol beverages.
Michael Madigan, president and legal counsel for the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association, asked for a financial relief package to reimburse wholesalers for products that must be destroyed. But Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) said the state is broke, and he expects lawmakers to face a $10 billion shortfall after the November budget forecast.