I'd say we should pop the Champagne but I think something a little stronger might be in order.
Governor Rick Scott has signed House Bill 1447 into law, enacting changes to the Special Food Service license to allow smaller restaurants within a delineated downtown dining district to serve full liquor.
The law allows an exemption for restaurants with at least 80 seats and at least 1800 square feet. The state law, which still applies to restaurant outside the downtown parameters, requires a minimum of 150 seats and at least 2500 square feet to qualify for the SFS license. A third requirement, that at least 51 percent of the establishment's sales be derived from food and non-alcoholic beverages, remains for both categories, regardless of size or exemption.
While it might now be easier for restaurants to meet the requirements to offer a full bar along with a farm-to-table menu, it isn't necessarily simpler. We are still talking about government bureaucracy, after all.
No one was chomping at the bit waiting for the ink to dry on the bill more than Kirt Earhart, co-owner of Maxine's on Shine, whose address now falls within the special district. Earhart and his wife, Maxine, were part of a stakeholders group that championed the law and the two spoke in its favor to a group of local lawmakers in October.
When it was announced, earlier in March, that the legislature had overwhelmingly passed the bill, Earhart was quoted as saying that he expected to be serving cocktails within a week. It might take a bit more time.
"We were there yesterday at city hall," Earhart said in an email Tuesday. "Was at state office on Robinson a week ago. Working through the process," he said. "My feeling today is two weeks from now till we have liquor."
Those who meet the requirements must fill out a form at the state's website then submit it to the Orlando City Hall for review.
But even with the license, existing restaurants such as Maxine's have other issues to solve.
"I do plan to shut down for a day or two in May," said Earhart, "to reset the bar area." A well-stocked bar requires a lot of bottles and mixers.
Still, Earhart says he expects to have his full beverage program in operation by June.