The Board of Selectmen last night passed a measure, which allows restaurants with a minimum of 50 seats to apply for an all-alcohol license effective today. Until today, restaurants had to have a minimum of 100 seats to apply for a license to serve alcohol.
There are 17 available all-alcohol and six beer and wine only licenses, according to Hans Larsen, executive director of general government services.
The board’s approval was the final step toward the passage of the amended bylaw. The town voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new regulations at the March 13 election.
Not everyone in the community is happy with the change. Ming Tsai, chef and owner of Blue Ginger, spoke out against the measure. Tsai said the new regulation grants the smaller restaurants a competitive advantage now that they’ll be able to apply for the same license he at one time needed 100 seats to apply for.
“On my block for example, I’m the only place you can get a drink right now,” he said before the board. “That was a conscious decision I made coming here 14 years ago; having had invested $2 million to Blue Ginger knowing that…you’d have to build a large restaurant, 100 seats or more, to be able to serve beer and wine. That’s a great advantage, a clear advantage, and that was the law.”
Tsai, who has railed against the measure at prior board meetings, said he was in favor of new restaurants coming to Wellesley, but the large restaurants should maintain some advantage over the small ones, which have fewer expenses. Tsai offered that small restaurants should only be allowed beer and wine licenses, not all-alcohol, which they now can access.
Board of Selectmen Chair Barbara Searle said that was initially the board’s intention, however, the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission stipulates that the board cannot restrict small restaurants from applying for a all-alcohol licenses.
“We assume a lot of small restaurants will not want a full bar, but we can’t stop them," she said.
Tsai asked whether the board could make an allowance for larger restaurants to no longer require patrons to order food if they want to drink, which is currently a town bylaw. Searle said that while the board is sympathetic to the challenges larger restaurants face, the process by which alcohol regulations are changed at the town level is slow.
“We hear you,” she said. “This is a big step for Wellesley, moving down to the 50 seats. Wellesley tends to take things slowly…We’re not closing the door on this, we just don’t feel like we can take that next step right this moment. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t look at it again.”