WESTFIELD, NJ – As the June 3 public hearing and final town council vote on proposed changes to the town’s liquor license laws approaches, two restaurant owners spoke out about the ordinance that has sparked a heated debate in Westfield.
A preliminary vote was held at a council meeting earlier this month and just one member, Vicki Kimmins, opposed the change, which would allow restaurants with conditional liquor licenses to serve patrons alcohol without necessarily seating them at a table or serving them food. (Councilman Keith Loughlin was absent from that meeting.)
“I enjoy that our town is not full of ‘bars,’” Kimmins told TAP recently. “Our downtown sidewalk café tables are currently enjoyed by families, and I would like to keep it that way.”
Restaurants with conditional licenses would still be required to make at least half of their money from food sales overall. The proposal would affect five Westfield establishments: Ferraro’s Restaurant, Sweet Waters Steak House, Fujiyama Mama, Akai Japanese Sushi Lounge and a new, to-be-named restaurant listed as UT Westfield LLC.
Tim Boyle, co-owner of 16 Prospect Wine Bar & Bistro, is vocal in his opposition to the proposed changes. As the owner of one of four full liquor licenses in town, he feels it could lessen the appeal of his restaurant’s offerings.
“I’m not crazy about it ... because at the stroke of a pen, they devalue my investment,” said Boyle, who outbid a competitor for his license in 2006. “I think it’s very rushed. I don’t think they’ve done any research on it.”
Boyle admits that if the ordinance passes on Tuesday it would not likely lead to an “apocalyptic” change in Downtown Westfield, but he asserts that it would boost risk for restaurants that serve alcohol.
He is concerned he could be responsible for patrons who may come to 16 Prospect intoxicated after drinking at another establishment in town.
“The increase in drinking outlets that are solely for the purpose of drinking increases risk,” he said.
James Du, co-owner of Akai Lounge, which opened in April and holds a conditional license, believes that the character of Downtown Westfield won’t be negatively altered if the ordinance passes.
“This town is such a beautiful town. It’s such a family-oriented town,” he said. “Whatever’s good for the town, we’re on board.”
Du, who also owns an Akai Lounge in Englewood, sees the ability to serve patrons drinks alone at a handful of restaurants in town as a way to generate good profits, especially for an restaurant like his that employs skilled sushi chefs and fish handlers.
He also feels that many local patrons would enjoy a comfortable, intimate bar setting instead of a table.
“Some people just love to sit at the bar,” Du said.
Downtown Westfield Corporation Executive Director Sherry Cronin said she has not been approached by restaurant owners concerned about the issue, but she understands the need to update the antiquated liquor license laws.
“I can see pros and cons from what I do know about it,” she said this week.
Cronin noted that many diners choose to leave Westfield in search of a place to have a drink in other communities, even though Westfield is a restaurant destination town.
“That’s money that’s not being funneled back to Downtown Westfield,” she said.
The public hearing regarding the ordiance will take place during the next town council meeting, June 3 at 8 p.m. at 425 East Broad Street. To read our earlier story about the debate during last week's town council meeting, click here.