Appeal delays liquor license for Pizza Hut


If a pitcher of beer and hot slab of pizza sounds like the perfect meal, don't head to the Hampstead Pizza Hut just yet.

For three years now, the popular restaurant has been awaiting word from the county liquor board on the issuance of a license to serve beer, wine and liquor.

And, thanks to an appeal of a Carroll Circuit Court ruling last month that paves the way for such a license, the liquor board will not have an answer for the Hanover Pike restaurant for as long as another year.

In 1989, the liquor board decided to sue Pizza Hut of Maryland Inc. -- the Howard County-based owner of the Hampstead restaurant -- because it wasn't sure whether a 30-year-old state law prohibiting chain stores, discount houses and supermarkets from selling alcohol in Carroll applied to chain restaurants.

Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. said in a ruling May 14 that the law clearly does not apply to chain restaurants: "We find the fair meaning of the phrase 'chain stores, supermarkets or discount houses' does not include restaurant establishments such as Pizza Hut."

The suit sought to deny the popular restaurant a liquor license and to rescind licenses already granted to two other Pizza Hut operations in the 140 Village Shopping Center and in Eldersburg.

Those licenses were granted on the assumption that they were franchise operations.

William B. Dulany, the Westminster attorney representing Pizza Hut, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The liquor board and the county attorney both have argued that all they wanted from the suit was a clarification of the state law, a law they have called arcane and confusing.

"We don't think Judge Burns' decision is clear enough," said Earl Brewer, the board president. "We want the Court of Appeals to clarify this issue once and for all."

The suit said that because the law mentions a Class B liquor license, it must apply to restaurants, even though the word "restaurant" appears nowhere in the statute.

A Class B license may be issued only to restaurants.

"We want to know what we're supposed to do, how we're supposed to enforce this law," said Charles W. Thompson Jr., the county attorney.

Pizza Hut is not the only national chain restaurant operation interested in the outcome of the case. The Sizzler restaurant in Westminster is awaiting a decision on the law; it applied for a liquor license last year and was told to wait until the case was finished.

Also, officials said Chi-Chi's and Red Lobster both were interested in the case's outcome, saying they were looking to locate in Carroll if they could obtain liquor licenses.

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