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DABC has ‘questions’ about Starbucks liquor license

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's liquor control authority has put the brakes on Starbucks' liquor license application, saying it has questions that may only be answered by the state legislature.

At its monthly meeting, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission said it was not prepared to take action on Starbucks' request for a "master license." Under the terms of the license, the coffee giant would pay more for one liquor license that would apply to five of its stores.

As FOX 13 first reported last week, Starbucks is seeking a limited restaurant license to sell craft beers and wine in the evenings at select stores in Salt Lake City, Farmington, Lehi, Holladay and Park City. The company said it has a special "evenings" menu at 75 stores in 10 states.

"We understand that with the evenings program come additional responsibilities and we take those responsibilities very seriously," said Shannon Boldizsar with Starbucks' Global Public Affairs. "We know that there are some unique circumstances and laws in Utah."

Boldizsar said they would comply with all liquor laws required for the license, which would include "intent to dine" (where a patron must state their intent to order food before being served a drink), having 70 percent of their sales come from food, and possible construction of a so-called "Zion Curtain," the 7-foot separate preparation areas that prevent customers from seeing drinks being made.

DABC Commissioner Jeff Wright called Starbucks "one of the great American companies," and said he believed they would be an excellent operator. However, other commissioners acknowledged there are questions.

"We're not in a position today to make a firm decision on your request," said DABC Commission Chairman John Nielsen. "I think that needs to be vetted perhaps at a higher level than this commission, but we want to engage in further dialogue with you."

After the commission meeting, Nielsen told FOX 13 some of those questions center around whether Starbucks has a "kitchen," as required under the law. Nielsen noted that Starbucks coffee shops have heating ovens for sandwiches and pastries, but the DABC was not prepared to say if that met the legal definition for a restaurant liquor license.

"Is that a kitchen or are we talking about a more traditional grill? And I think those issues are very much at play here," he said. "As a commission we have to follow what the statute tells us."

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who has been tasked by the Senate with handling liquor legislation, said he wanted to study the issue before weighing in. He questioned if Starbucks was seeking a policy change.

Nielsen said coffee can be considered food, but he was told Starbucks could still make the 70/30 ratio of food-to-liquor sales required under the law without coffee.

There is no timetable for Starbucks to return to the DABC in its efforts for a liquor license. The company has previously told FOX 13 the permitting process was "a first step."