Liquor sales in rural areas

Liquor lines the shelves Jan. 12 at Pettit's Country Market in Castleford.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS

TWIN FALLS — The move to Twin Falls cost one restaurant its liquor license, but the owner isn’t giving up his quest to obtain one just yet.

Blu, which specializes in modern American cuisine, left the Pebble Ponds Golf Course in Filer in March 2017. Owner and chef Danny Auth said he wanted to move the business to Twin Falls, where 90 percent of his customers already lived.

But he knew it meant he’d lose one of the biggest perks of doing business at a golf course. While Idaho restricts the number of liquor licenses in each city, golf courses are exempt from those limits and can get a liquor license with relative ease.

When Auth began moving Blu’s operations to Twin Falls, there were no liquor licenses available. He looked at his options and approached Daniel Fuchs, whose family controls a number of liquor licenses in town.

“I’ve been hounding him for almost four years now,” Auth said.

But there was no deal. No one else in town would even lease Blu a license, since they were all being used.

The restaurant owner optimistically hoped that an effort to change the liquor code in Idaho would pull through. For a few years, a group of lawmakers have discussed privatizing licenses, Auth said. But privatizing licenses would devalue the investment of anyone who’s already spent thousands of dollars on buying a license.

So lately, it’s been proposed that Idaho extend the specialty licenses to restaurants, instead of just places like golf courses and community centers.

“Most of the liquor licenses in Idaho are owned by people with zero interest in the restaurant business,” Auth said.

For many liquor license owners, it’s become strictly an investment.

But the effort to create more exemptions has thus far failed to gain much traction, and Blu has paid the consequences of changing cities.

“Unfortunately, it’s a huge blow to my business,” Auth said.

Ideally, he would like to lease a liquor license rather than buy one. That’s because if legislation brings more exemptions, it would make it easier — and less expensive — for him to get a license later on.

“I don’t want to be in a place where I bought a Ferrari and it’s worth nothing,” he said.

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Liquor licenses in the recent past cost around $150,000 in Twin Falls, Auth said, and he readily admits that the price tag is “worth every penny.”

There is one other option he could pursue for the long term: As of early January, there were only eight businesses on the Twin Falls waiting list with the Idaho State Police Alcohol Beverage Control. Which means if he signs up now, he has decent odds of getting offered a liquor license in the next few years.

“At one point, there were 60 people on the list,” Auth said.

He’s also hoping the 2020 Census will show higher population estimates for Twin Falls, and ISP could offer a handful of liquor licenses at once, thus shortening his time on the waiting list.

The restaurant’s beer and wine license allows it to serve alcohol with less than 16 percent alcohol volume, so it can offer some liqueurs, as well as pre-mixed margaritas and Bloody Marys.

But in the meantime, Blu remains focused on what it does best: food.

“We don’t try to be a bar,” Auth said.

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