This story was updated on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 at 10 p.m. with additional information.
After two weeks of starts and stops, the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board approved the applications of two Cracker Barrel locations to begin selling beer at its restaurants on Shallowford Road and Birmingham Highway.
The company announced last month it planned to put beer and wine on its menus in Tennessee, and elsewhere eventually, after what it calls a successful trial in Florida. When the alcoholic beverages will appear on the menus was unknown, according to attorney Tayo Atanda.
"As we indicated on our most recent earnings call, we are encouraged by the results we have had with our beer and wine program at over 100 locations with a limited assortment of beer and wine, including mimosas," Cracker Barrel said in a statement sent to the Times Free Press. "Our expectation is to roll out the program to roughly 600 locations by the end of the fiscal year and also expand the variety of our offerings as we continue to support the guest experience."
The company said prior to the pandemic it began pursuing alcohol sales "in response to strong feedback from our guests" and so far "we are encouraged by the performance" at restaurants offering beer and wine.
"Our guests have told us that offering beer and wine would reduce the veto vote – that is, those guests who would choose Cracker Barrel for a given dining occasion, but ultimately go elsewhere because they would like to have a beer or a glass of wine with their meal – especially during weekend dinner," Cracker Barrel said in its statement.
Atanda told the board on Sept. 11 that the company hoped to have a planned statewide launch of alcohol sales in Cracker Barrel locations in Tennessee on Sept. 6, but he said Thursday that some of the stores in the company's chain needed more upgrading than expected, delaying the rollout.
Atanda also represented Old Chicago Pizza and Logan's Roadhouse, both at Northgate Mall, and both of their beer permit applications also were approved. The four restaurant applications were passed by the board at its Sept. 11 meeting and a specially called Sept. 28 meeting because of incomplete applications but were approved with little discussion during Thursday's meeting.
The application for a catering license to sell beer for Big River Grille & Brewing Works downtown was passed again because it had not yet received the needed paperwork from the state.
The board also approved an application for the Kanku's at the corner of Holtzclaw and 3rd Street.
Chattanooga's Beer Board continues to meet via Zoom and Thursday's meeting was slowed by issues with applicants trying to get either their cameras or microphones or both to work, and by the board and city officials trying to work through questions that required getting other city officials, such as building inspectors, on the phone or via email to answer or clarify questions.
An application by the Chattanoogan for a beer license for a new rooftop bar, for example, was passed to the end of the meeting, which began at 9 a.m., and then passed to Oct. 15 after several emails and phone calls determined that the building inspection had been denied.
City Attorney Melinda Foster also noted that the application as written was to add the new bar to the hotel's three existing establishments approved to sell beer. She noted that it was unclear if the denial was related to the rooftop bar or one of the other eateries and the building inspector could not be reached by phone for clarification.
John Tampa, co-founder and president of Ascent Hospitality Management argued that the application was just for the rooftop bar and that the licenses for its banquet, grill and rotunda shouldn't be a factor in the discussion because they were under renovation and not serving alcohol currently.
Board member Trevor Atchely suggested amending the application to focus just on the rooftop bar, but Foster said that was not as simple as marking through or fixing a misspelled name or extra word as it is done for some applications, but more importantly, the inspection had not passed and the board had no way of knowing for what reason.
Tampa closed the meeting by thanking the board for trying to expedite the application, but he accused Foster of trying to hinder local businesses on a technicality.
At the end of the meeting board members discussed putting a deadline on when an application can be changed to make things easier on staff, and to avoid more confusion. Chairman Dan Mayfield said that going to an online application form and enforcing a deadline would be helpful.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.