The Columbia County establishment Finish Line Cafe might not have its alcohol license renewed for 2005 after an audit that county officials say shows the business missed a required percentage of food sales.
Donna Letbetter prepares french fries at Finish Line Cafe on Belair Road. The business might lose its alcohol license for not meeting food-sales requirements.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
On Monday, the county's planning and development services committee voted to recommend a disapproval of the alcohol license for 2005 unless the business can prove before the county commission's meeting Tuesday that it has been selling 51 percent in food - a requirement in the county to be a restaurant.
Jeff Browning, the county's planning director, said the establishment near Wrightsboro Road was looked at after an anonymous complaint was made.
The auditing firm Cherry, Bekaert & Holland examined the business' records from Oct. 2003 to Sept. 2004.
"The results of that audit indicate they're not meeting that (51 percent food sales requirement)," Browning told members of the planning and development services committee.
The business missed the required percentage by about 5 percent, Browning said.
The business' co-owner, Angie Bridges, questions why only her business was audited and says she plans to ask commissioners for a probationary period Tuesday instead of having her license not renewed.
"Nobody else in Columbia County is being audited but me," she said. "I've been there five years, never caused any trouble, have always paid taxes on time and have always gotten my paperwork in on time."
She said that if her alcohol license isn't renewed, Finish Line, which has five employees, will have to close down.
"I could sell food still, but this is a very competitive market," she said. "You have to have alcohol now to sell food."
Bridges said she feels she has come close enough to the 51 percent that she should be allowed a probationary period to prove she can meet the for food sales.
Browning said the ordinance doesn't provide for a probationary period, but he said the business could reapply at any time if its alcohol license is not renewed Tuesday. To reapply, though, he said the business would have to follow some guidelines.
"I would say that they would have to show that they have the kitchen facilities, and they may. I'm not questioning that they do,'' he said.
"Not only would they have to have those, they would have to be using them. They would have to attract a clientele that is coming there to eat and they're buying as much or more food dollar-wise than they are buying alcohol.
"And they would have to demonstrate that they are prepared to operate the business that way."
Bridges said it will be difficult to show she can sell 51 percent in food if her business closes down.
"I told them, 'How can I operate and get my food sales up if you won't give me the license to keep operating?'" she said, adding that her business has a menu that offers a wide range of foods and a kitchen that meets county requirements.
Browning said Finish Line is one of three similar businesses in the county that had been grandfathered in as an alcohol establishment under a prior owner after a 1991 ordinance that began the 51 percent food sales requirement.
He said the other two restaurants weren't audited recently because they are still operating under the grandfather clause. He said that Finish Line is not.
He also said some of Finish Line Cafe's figures that showed a loss in alcohol sales for certain months were questionable.
Although there were some financial figures that auditors couldn't determine whether they represented food or alcohol sales, committee members last Monday said the audit's findings were enough for them to proceed with a recommendation to disapprove the business' 2005 license.
"I hate to put people out of business, but I think we're about to set a precedent (if the ordinance isn't enforced)," Commissioner Tommy Mercer said.
During Monday's committee meeting, members also forwarded on favorably a request for 2005 for an alcohol license for the following businesses: Rhinehart's Oyster Bar at North Belair and Owens roads; Poblanos Mexican Grill, which will operate in the former Twisted Chicken Cafe building; a Grand China Buffet; and Las Lomas Mexican Restaurante off South Belair Road.
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