Nearly 30 Michigan restaurant, bar, and distillery operators are petitioning state lawmakers to allow for the temporary sale of to-go beer, wine, cocktails, and spirits at licensed bars and restaurants for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under state law, Michigan restaurants and bars that hold a supplemental Specially Designated Merchant (SDM) license are permitted to sell packaged beer and wine for carryout and delivery — but not cocktails. While such sales might only account for a fraction of business during normal times, many restaurants and bars in the state are now temporarily closed or reliant on sales from carryout service.
As such, the owners of some of southeast Michigan’s most prominent bar and restaurant groups are asking the state to issue an executive order to allow them to sell pre-made cocktails, beer, and wine.
One of them is Sandy Levine, the owner of the Oakland cocktail bar in Ferndale and co-owner of Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails in Detroit. In a matter of weeks, he’s seen both his businesses close and his employees laid off. During the first two weeks of March, Levine says there was a steep decline in traffic at both businesses, with a more than 70 percent drop in sales on the weekend before the statewide dine-in closure mandate took effect. During that period, he and partner Doug Hewitt stopped taking paychecks to try and make ends meet. The Oakland, which holds an SDM license, briefly attempted to offer carryout beer and wine, but received only a handful of orders. Levine, who is at higher risk for complications resulting from COVID-19 due to a history of pneumonia, saw few options to move forward with the businesses and felt it best to shut down. “We just thought people weren’t going to order it enough,” he says.
He’s currently trying to piece together financing and has applied to more than a dozen small business grant and loan programs — some of which would require payments that are higher than the businesses’ rent.
Now, having seen states such as Ohio, Texas, and Illinois loosening laws around takeout spirits and cocktails, Levine and his colleagues in the bar industry are hopeful that Michigan might also offer some form of relief.
Levine points out that some establishments such as Voyager and Castalia are currently providing cocktail mixers. However, customers then still have to go out and purchase the liquor from a market or liquor store, resulting in a trip to a second location. “Doing it all in one place would be a lot better,” he says, and would also allow bars such as Standby in Detroit to provide supplies to accompany their e-book recipes.
Under the proposal presented by the food and beverage industry in a Change.org campaign, bars would be treated as off-premise liquor retailers and customers would be required to keep the packaging closed or risk violating open container laws. As of publication, the petition had received roughly close to 2,800 signatures. Eater reached out to the governor’s office for comment and has not yet received a response, but will update this post if more information becomes available.
Levine is optimistic that Michigan’s legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will be receptive to the petition. He also believes that his customers are missing their favorite drinks and would like the ability to purchase or make them at home. “We have a lot of cocktails that people have a strong attachment to,” he says.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at email@example.com.
• Allow the Temporary Sale of Alcohol To-Go From Restaurants and Bars in Michigan [Change.org]
• Where to Find Beer and Wine for Carryout and Delivery in Metro Detroit [ED]
• Metro Detroit Restaurants and Bars Roll Out Beer and Wine Delivery [ED]
• How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Detroit Food and Beverage Industry [ED]
• All Coronavirus Coverage [E]