Wine & Dine

Oldham County ‘moist’ law
has produced desired results

Several restaurants have opened,
spurring growth, officials say

"This is a win-win situation for the whole community."
– Joe Schoenbaechler, OCEDA Director

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(April 2006) – Lainey Spooner sold her café to open Station House Grille eight months ago as a result of the passage of the moist vote in Oldham County. And she doesn’t regret this decision for one moment.

April 2006 KY Cover

April 2006 Kentucky
Edition Cover

She sees the option to buy alcohol at a restaurant “more of a choice,” for the patron. It encourages residents to spend money in the county, rather than spending money out of the county for those who wish to enjoy a beer or glass of wine with their meal.
There is no doubt that the passing of the 2004 moist vote in Oldham County created more opportunity for new and existing restaurants within the county. In the 11/2 years since it went into effect, a slow and steady increase in the number of establishments that serve alcohol by the drink has been on the rise, as part of the county’s ongoing development activity.
Oldham County was a prohibition or completely dry county until January 2005. After much public debate, passage of the moist vote allowed restaurants seating at least 100 patrons to serve alcohol by the drink. A permanent sale of alcohol was allowed in restaurants that derived 70 percent of their revenue from food.
These standards were set by the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly session, which passed a law allowing large restaurants to sell alcohol by the drink. Of the state’s 120 counties, 65 of them allow some alcohol sales, according to the state Department for Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).
Many communities that have long said no to alcoholic beverage sales are now allowing some form of alcohol sales. Eight localities in Kentucky have made their restaurants wet: Elizabethtown, Danville, Radcliff, Georgetown, Central City, Kuttawa, Murray and nearby Shelby County.
Obtaining a license is a fairly easy process. To qualify, an ad must be placed in the local newspaper and a background check must be run and building inspections made. State level inspections and a final approval are required. For the state of Kentucky, the ABC division of licensing handles more than 12,000 new and renewal application requests each year.

Lainey Spooner

Photo by Don Ward

Lainey Spooner poses inside her Station House Grille restaurant in Crestwood. Because of the moist ordinance, she sold her cafe to build the restaurant at Crestwood Station on Hwy. 146.

Established restaurants, such as Hometown Pizza, the Westport General Store and Heather’s on the River, all obtained a license to sell alcohol. The later business, located near Prospect, went from a private club to a public restaurant as a result.
The sale of alcohol provides Spooner’s clientele with more options. Customers don’t have to buy a drink, she said. But the option is there for those who wish to do so. Spooner estimated that 14 percent of her business is derived from alcohol sales.
As a result, she now offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights as an extra form of entertainment. Eating at a restaurant that serves alcohol with food and entertainment are two reasons most individuals travel out of the county to Louisville.
Spooner has also had special parties, such as a New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day parties, at which patron’s had the option to purchase a glass of alcohol. Most of her customers are locals, although she does see a few that stop off from I-71 and dine at her restaurant. She feels her restaurant is unique enough to stand out in its offerings, and it doesn’t rely entirely on its alcohol sales to keep its doors open.
Lou Schafer, owner of Old Louisville Style Fish House & Chili Parlor, said Spooner knew what she was doing when she opened Station House Grille. Her business is one of the “nicest upscale restaurants” around, said Schafer. “She did things right.”
Schafer opened his restaurant four years ago. Since this was before passage of the moist vote, discussion of the upcoming vote at the time influenced him to open his restaurant in Oldham County. Schafer said he was “100 percent behind it. It was needed for the economy.”

Lou Schafer

Photos by Don Ward

Lou Schafer expanded the seating in his
Old Louisville Style Chili Parlor and
Fish House to meet the requirements
of the moist ordinance.
He now sells beer and wine.

The impact of the vote aided his business immensely without turning it into a bar, Schafer said. It enabled patrons to enjoy a beer with their burger, chili or fish. “Now we just need the locals to support us, and not go into Louisville all the time to eat.”
This vote was passed to support small independents, said Schafer. “This is still Oldham County, (with no) big chains coming in. The people who live here are trying to make the county prosper and take care of it.”
The restaurant-only option is attractive to localities that do not want taverns or bars locating within their cities. It does afford opportunity for steakhouses or chain restaurants, which will not open in an area if a full-service bar cannot be included within the building, according to Dan Meyer, executive director for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky, a trade association for alcoholic distributors in the state.
Meyer said the passing of the moist vote by a locality allows “jobs and additional dining and entertainment for the people living in those places.” He says the law can boost tourism and industrial development in an area because companies considering locating to an area often will consider the amount of “restaurants and good dining in a town, which make up the quality of life of an area.”
Although the moist ordinance is still in its infancy, Meyer said most localities that adopted it are pleased with the results. Most opponents of the law fear a rise in crime and increased drinking among teenagers, but that’s just not the case, said Meyer.
Meyer said he met with residents of La Grange before the moist ordinance was adopted.
“The county passed more stringent liquor laws,” he pointed out. It is possible that after the surrounding counties view Oldham County’s experience with the law, they may consider adopting a similar one, said Meyer.
Joe Schoenbaechler, who was president of the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce at the time of the moist vote, said proponents were trying to create an atmosphere in Oldham County that would allow residents to see the county not just as a place to live and shop, but also as an entertainment venue. It was a way to entice the type of restaurants to open inside the county boundaries that most people would travel the extra miles to Louisville to visit.

Lou Schafer

Since then, the Applebee’s restaurant chain has announced it is planning to open a new restaurant in La Grange very soon. It will represent the second major restaurant chain, behind Beef O’Brady’s Family Sports Pub, to locate there.
Meanwhile, several independent Mexican, Asian and Italian restaurants have opened around the county, some of which serve alcohol. Schoenbaechler cites the moist vote as the reason. Passage of the moist vote “was a win-win situation for the whole community,” he said.
“Oldham County already had a pretty good mix of travelers from counties east of us,” said Schoenbaechler.
Schafer said the people of Oldham County voted for the moist vote. As long as they remain in the county and support it, it will work; it will fail if they continue to go to Louisville for the same reasons, he said.
Schafer serves assorted bottled beer and margaritas and pina coladas in the summer months. He is considering the addition of a full bar, since many have asked him to do so. He had to remodel his building upon passage of the moist vote to accommodate the necessary requirement of 100 seats.
But Oldham County is not ready to support a fine dining place, said Schafer. “It is at the point where it has enough restaurants.”
Bob Schmidt, owner of the Beef O’Brady’s franchise in La Grange, insists that his restaurant is “only a sports pub, not a bar.” The main reason he opened a business in La Grange is because of a “perceived shortage of good quality restaurants serving alcohol,” he said. The growing population demographics of Oldham County also influenced his decision.
Many of Schmidt’s customers do not buy beer and wine. Only 15 percent of his sales are derived from alcohol sales, he says. He stressed that his restaurant is a family sports pub. “There are a lot of kids in here. We don’t depend upon alcohol sales to stay in business,” he said.
He sees moderate competition with existing restaurants. Even the proposal of a mixed-use center nearby that would include restaurants at
I-71’s Exit 18 in Buckner does not worry Schmidt.
“We offer a unique product,” said Schmidt. He has many TVs in his restaurant, and families often come to watch local sports teams play. It is a smoke-free environment, and not a place just for the guys to hang out in.
“We need a break in the habit of everybody going to Louisville to dine,” said Schmidt. “It would be better for the county.” Even with the abundance of new development in the county, “Everyone is bypassing Oldham County as a dining spot.”

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