A waiting period for restaurants to receive liquor licenses may be necessary, but the current 90 days is endangering the success of new establishments, Sheriff John H. Brown told the Carroll County Liquor Board yesterday.
"This has been a tremendous hardship on people," Sheriff Brown said at a liquor license upgrade hearing for Bradley's Fox Briar Inn in Silver Run. He said he might support a 30- or 60-day waiting period, depending on the circumstances of the licensee.
"I'm able to spot the difference" between a restaurant and a tavern, he said. "After 25 years with the Baltimore police, I know. This place is without a doubt a fine restaurant."
The sheriff testified at the hearing as a private citizen in support of a Class B beer, wine and liquor license for the Littlestown Pike restaurant. Bradley's has been operating with a Class D beer and wine tavern license, which prohibits alcohol sales on Sundays, since it opened Sept. 23.
"This would have to have excellent food, or I wouldn't go there," said Sheriff Brown, noting he had eaten there about 10 times. "They run a tight ship and only seem to cater to the best clientele."
The hearing, which started as a simple license upgrade, quickly became a debate about the merits of the Liquor Board's 90-day waiting period for restaurant licensees after board members asked Mr. Brown's opinion on the policy.
Liquor board members instituted the policy, which requires a restaurant operate for three months before it can obtain a Class B license, last year in an attempt to help restaurants meet their food quotas. In Carroll County, food must account for 40 percent of a restaurant's sales for it to maintain a Class B restaurant liquor license.
At the time, board members said the regulations would help restaurants gain a customer following for food, not alcohol. In the past, several county establishments that had no intention of becoming restaurants had been issued Class B licenses, which allow Sunday alcohol sales, members said.
Restaurants may, as Bradley's did, obtain a Class D license and apply for an upgrade 90 days after opening. At that time, records of the relative percentages of food and alcohol sales may be used to support the restaurant owner's application.
Liquor Board attempts to allow Class D license holders to sell hard liquor and serve alcohol on Sundays have been denied by the county's General Assembly delegation, which must get the regulation passed for Carroll County in Annapolis.
But Frances M. Baker, who owns Bradley's with her husband, Donald, said the Class D tavern license did little to help her business.
"A lot of people are used to a before-dinner drink or an after-dinner drink, and I cannot provide it at this time," she said. "I could have had some business I lost with Christmas parties that wanted alcohol.
"The 90-day rule has been a hardship for us as a fine dining restaurant."
Her customers are served alcohol only with meals, Ms. Baker said. She said her food sales have averaged 86 percent of her total business for the past three months.
"Everyone who comes to my place eats," she said. "You don't just come to drink. If you don't eat, you don't come there."
The Bakers' supporters argued that the 90-day rule should have been waived because the family operated a restaurant in the same location without a violation for 13 years, until the mid-1970s. Board members said that operation declined after Ms. Baker sold it and had a difficult time meeting its food quotas.
"That's not a problem in this case," said County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr., noting that the Bakers' food percentages show they are serious about operating the establishment as a restaurant. "They have shown that they can do it."
Board members approved the license but said it would not go into effect until Dec. 18, exactly 90 days after Bradley's opened.
"We have a rule on the books," board Chairman Russell Mayer said. "We can't go against that."
But Mr. Mayer said the board is reconsidering the 90-day rule and will seek suggestions from the sheriff's office before making a final decision.
The Liquor Board also postponed until next month a hearing on charges that the Ocean Pride restaurant in Eldersburg had served alcohol to a minor.
Board Administrator J. Ronald Lau said the restaurant's owners had hired attorney Kenneth Holniker to represent them but switched lawyers when Mr. Holniker's wife died last week. The new attorney asked for more time to prepare for the hearing.