New Class of Liquor License Could Be in NJ’s Future

By Michael Hill

At the Greek Taverna in Edgewater, the bottle of Grey Goose grows dust. So does the other hard liquor on display as decorations.

At one table on ‘fellas night out, they bring their own bottles. For other patrons, the restaurant only has a permit to sell them New Jersey-made wine by the bottle. Owner Peter Hajiyerou’s staff may not serve them any alcoholic beverage by the glass at their table.

“That’s terrible,” Hajiyerou said.

A mid-1940s New Jersey law limits new liquor licenses to one per 3,000 residents. The law of supply and demand drives the price up well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and even more.

“You know, it’s crazy. It’s crazy,” Hajiyerou said.

“Very old rules haven’t been updated to meet the demands of society,” said Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli.

Burzichelli has introduced a bill to allow table service by creating a new class of license for $5,000 to $10,000.

“You’ll be able to buy a liquor license at a very reasonable price depending on the size of your kitchen and the number of seats. You have to renew it annually and you can go into business and have the potential to be successful because you’ve got that additional flow of income which restaurants need,” Burzichelli said.

This is the second time Burzichelli has proposed this legislation. He acknowledges it’s a work in progress, one for which he says he’s still trying to get all the right ingredients.

“I think we’re about 85 percent there,” he said.

“I think that this legislation is too far reaching,” said New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association President Marilou Halvorsen. “It’s a system that a lot of people have bought into, some over a million dollars. So, it’s no different than eminent domain. I believe that the state should reimburse them for their license.”

“We’re answering that by saying that if you can demonstrate that your liquor license has been devalued that you’d be able to apply for a certain degree of tax credits,” Burzichelli said.

“However if you’re talking about a couple hundred thousand dollars in tax credits, no restaurant is going to be able to show that in five years,” Halvorsen said.

Under Burzichelli’s bill, towns would have to adopt ordinances to issue the new liquor licenses and could allow as many as they want — opportunities, as he sees it, to create jobs and generate revenue. A vision the New Jersey State League of Municipalities shares.

“Well, I think it’s an opportunity to make your community more attractive to both development and to residents. We view this as legislation sort of following the market and what’s the current evolution of the market. We know that our trends show that millennials want to live, work and play in the same location,” said League Assistant Executive Director Mike Cerra.

“We think there’s a considerable part of the New Jersey economy that needs to be unlocked,” Burzichelli said.

The next step: a series of committee hearings and debate and pouring over changing New Jersey’s old liquor licensing laws.