Straw poll could let Dade County residents weigh in on beer, wine in restaurants

Straw poll could let Dade County residents weigh in on beer, wine in restaurants

February 9th, 2014 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Hubby Foret, a cook at the Canyon Grill restaurant, sprinkles blue cheese on ground mignon in this file photo. Canyon Grill is located in the community of New Salem near Cloudland Canyon State Park.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

When the May 20 primary election comes, Dade County, Ga., voters likely will weigh in on whether restaurants should be allowed to sell beer and wine.

The county's Democratic Party plans to propose the idea of a wet county as a nonbinding straw poll question.

"We're basically just asking the voters, 'Would you want it?'" county Democratic Party member Tom McMahan said.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are allowed to put straw poll questions on the ballot, but the questions are only meant to get voters' opinions. The Dade County Commission would have to approve beer and wine sales in restaurants.

Corporate chain restaurants that serve beer and wine have avoided dry counties elsewhere.

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said such restaurants wouldn't be interested in moving to unincorporated Dade County, anyway, since it lacks sewer service. And Rumley's not sure the county's voters favor beer and wine sales in restaurants.

"I don't know ... if the people of Dade County would support that," he said. "I don't feel that they would."

McMahan thinks that legalizing beer and wine in restaurants in the unincorporated county could be a boon to business.

"We're trying to open up business opportunities in the future," he said.

One reason the Democratic Party is considering the straw poll question, McMahan said, is because it wants to show support for the Canyon Grill, a high-end destination restaurant on Lookout Mountain near Cloudland Canyon State Park where patrons have to "brown bag," or bring their own, beer and wine.

Canyon Grill is owned by Lawton and Karen Haygood, who also own the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar on Riverside Drive in Chattanooga and Sugar's Ribs in downtown Chattanooga and on Missionary Ridge.

The Haygoods considered moving the Canyon Grill.

"Yes, we explored a building that was uniquely suited for Canyon Grill. After considerable thought, we decided to stay in our existing location," Lawton Haygood said in an email. "We are not involved in the licensing effort and this is the first I have heard about it. My personal opinion is, prohibiting the serving of beer and wine does not accomplish anything positive for Dade County. I doubt we would license to serve, but certainly understand the rights of others to do so."

Dade's county seat, the city of Trenton, legalized sales of beer and wine by the glass in 2010.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com at 423-757-6651.