Garfield may allow restaurants to apply for BYOB licenses for the first time since 1979
Garfield has introduced an ordinance that allows restaurants to apply for BYOB licenses.
The city has prohibited BYOB — which stands for "bring your own bottle" — since 1979.
“Some of our restaurants are struggling because of the pandemic,” said City Manager Tom Duch. “Over the years there’s been requests to allow BYOBs. We think this is the time to do it."
The ordinance will have a second reading on April 27.
Mayor Richard Rigoglioso said BYOBs are also a boon for residents who are on a budget, as customers can bring their own budget-friendly bottle while dining out. This could, he said, attract more diners to local businesses that don't have liquor licenses.
The license costs an annual fee of $100. Restaurants must have seating in their dining rooms for a minimum of 15 people. The license limits guests to bringing only wine or malt beverages (no hard liquor) from 4 to 11 p.m. Customers can bring wine and beer to dine in outdoor areas, as well, if they are fully enclosed by a permanent structure like a fence.
The ordinance will not apply to local social clubs. According to Duch, the city plans to inspect businesses that apply to make sure only restaurants are granted a license. Coffee shops and convenience stores, for example, will not qualify.
Stephen Chrisomalis, owner of Steve's Burgers, plans to get BYOB licenses for his two Garfield locations. He's working on building an outdoor patio where customers can enjoy their beer and wine while having his award-winning burgers.
Italian restaurant La Sicilia has a liquor license, but owner Sergio Juarez welcomes the BYOB allowance.
“We have another location in Belleville, and that’s BYOB,” Juarez said. “It’s nice because it’s good for the customers. They can bring what they like and save money on alcohol.”
Losing the money that customers would otherwise spend on the restaurant’s drinks isn’t a concern to Juarez, who feels being a BYOB would boost the customer experience.
But historically, similar changes in New Jersey municipalities have caused controversy.
The state’s liquor laws date back to the post-Prohibition era and limit municipalities to one liquor license per 3,000 residents. Only a few municipalities, like Newark, have liquor license laws that pre-date the changes made in the '40s and, therefore, have more liquor licenses to go around.
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In 2018, Diane Weiss, executive director of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, estimated that the average liquor license costs $350,000, though some come with a million-dollar price tag.
Because of the scarcity and expense of liquor licenses, changes to liquor laws can be contentious. Some restaurant owners with licenses argue they paid top dollar to get the exclusive right to serve alcohol. Other owners without licenses say liquor regulations should be loosened, as it’s difficult to make a profit without selling alcohol.
BYOBs also present a potential threat, some restaurant owners say, to businesses with liquor licenses because customers might choose to go to a BYOB restaurant to save money on alcohol.
Sam Cosma, manager of Garfield's Goodfellas Ristorante, which has a liquor license, is more laid back.
“Whatever the town thinks will help the town is OK with me,” Cosma said. “We have a full bar, so if you want a cocktail you can come here. I’m not worried about it.”
Don Warnet, owner of DP’s Pub, which also has a license, said he forgot that the BYOB restriction was even a law in Garfield.
“I live in Monmouth County, and not once have I picked a restaurant solely because it’s a BYOB,” he said.
If liquor licenses loosen to allow all restaurants to serve beer and wine, it might have a greater effect on his business. But for now, “If someone wants to go to a pizza parlor and bring a bottle of wine, they should be able to do so.”
Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.