Last week the ownership group looking to bring Hill Country to 410 7th Street NW spoke before the ANC 6C Alcohol Beverage Licensing committee. The committee provides a forum for more in depth discussion of the Class C-Restaurant application than is possible in the context of a ANC6C full commission meeting.
Nature of the Business
Hill Country opened in the Chelsea area of Manhattan in June of 2007 operating in a two-level 11,000 square foot space with 250 seats. The concept is patterned after Kruez Market in Lockhart Texas. What does that mean? It signifies that the meat is prepared in the same Kruez dry rub style and smoked slow over Texas post oak. The dining arrangement is not centered around the typical restaurant table service. Patrons order food at the counter, watch as it’s prepared, and bring it back to their tables. The New York location features live country music nightly as an amenity for diners – there is no dance floor or large standing area around the stage. The experience has been described as a family restaurant (they have 24 high-chairs in NYC) that gradually shifts to a younger crowd after 10pm. The focus truly is on the food which accounts for 78% of receipts at Hill Country NYC.
Points of Contention
After presenting their concept Owner Mark Glosserman and operating partner John Shaw addressed questions from the committee and attendees for the remainder of the two hours session. The duo had anticipated concerns about the live music and came prepared bringing a sound engineer and preliminary sound test results to the meeting. They also promised to forward the committee and the leaders from the Landsburgh condominium a copy of their lease which permits only a restaurant use. Their application does request the ability to issue cover charges and Shaw stated NY has only charge covers roughly 4 times per year for special events that involved importing a band from Austin.
The occupancy load was a gigantic discussion. The application states seating for 290 and standing room of 482 for a total of 772. This was a head scratcher. Why does a business operating primarily as a restaurant need standing room for 482? The applicants stated that they do not. The only intended to have 290-300 seats and anticipate another 50-60 in standing room. They contended that ABRA has a new policy regarding occupancy that went into effect on January 1st, 2010. The policy dictates that total potential occupancy according to a formula (1 person/7sf?) must be calculated, seating should be cited on the application, and the differential then declared as standing room. ABL Committee chair Anne Phelps conceded that ABRA had instituted such a change and that the Hill Country application would not appear as imposing had the applicant only been required to declare seating as in the past.
The community expressed a desire for a voluntary agreement. Hill Country had what most in attendance deemed reasonable answers to all concerns. However these answers mean little if they are not codified into an agreement. Additionally because liquor licenses are transferable it is important to set limits that the current business concept has no intention of crossing but protect the community from being subjected to a radically different concept without input should the business fail and be sold. Glosserman stated that he’d be happy to incorporate anything he discussed during the course of the night about his concept into an agreement.
The committee had to strongly consider the timeline for the application when determining how to vote. Their recommendation would be relied upon by the full commission for an official vote on March 10th. ABRA has set the petition deadline for March 22nd. For ANC6C to maintain standing in a petition should it need to go that far they must vote to oppose the application. Therefore the committee voted to oppose the application with the stipulation that opposition would be removed once a voluntary agreement comes to terms.
I’ve gone to a few of these rodeos before (this time I was only observing rather than participating) and I can assure everyone this opposition is merely procedural and not anti-business. ANC6C can not concede it’s standing in the matter before resolution is achieved. To avoid the word “oppose” or “protest” both parties could have agreed to approach ABRA and asked for the petition date to be pushed outward 4-6 weeks so a voluntary agreement could have been achieved before going to petition. However both sides understood that opposition was a matter of procedure rather than animosity. The lawyer for Hill Country completely endorsed this approach. Nothing will begin to unravel if a voluntary agreement is in place by mid-April by the time an ABRA status hearing would be scheduled (which is the step after roll-call hearing).