Liquor license awarded to new Italian market, with conditions

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 15, 2016

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Reflecting the fact that the city has only three liquor licenses left to give, City Council, after much debate, put additional restrictions on a new business owner coming into the city before granting him one of those three licenses.

Thomas Amato is working to open Gaudino’s on Harper Avenue, which he describes as an Italian market that will also have 100 seats for indoor dining and an outdoor patio, wine, beer and cocktails. But when he came before City Council in May for site plan approval, it was with the understanding that he would also be applying for a Class C liquor license. At the time he applied, however, the city’s liquor license ordinance would not have allowed Gaudino’s to qualify, as it didn’t meet two conditions: It will have less than 150 seats, and the city has less than six licenses left to give.

“We’re trying to draw a distinction for the operating model that we’re going to have at that site ... that will make us unique,” Amato said June 6. “Visitors come in and enjoy some nice home-based Italian food, have a glass of wine and maybe a drink, and that will be part of our model.”

City Council approved a proposal May 2, however, lowering the minimum seating for liquor licenses when the city holds less than six licenses from 150 to 100, which would accommodate Gaudino’s.

When Amato came back before council June 6 requesting the license, however, some council members were concerned that the license could potentially be sold later on and leave the city.

“It’s more of a fundamental question for me,” Councilman John Caron said. “We’re down to three Class C liquor licenses. Our surrounding communities don’t have any. I look at this as a competitive advantage for our city.

“I’m looking for something bigger. I feel the city needs those licenses in hand in case we ... can get a big developer that will come in and do a bigger restaurant. An Italian market, it’s been there before, it was very successful before — I don’t think it warrants a liquor license to be successful.”

Amato disagreed.

“Sometimes bigger isn’t better, but better is better, and you’re going to see better out of this,” he said.

Councilman Chris Vitale pointed out that it may not be easy for a larger chain restaurant to locate in St. Clair Shores.

“One of the problems of attracting the big chain restaurants (is they) usually have a business model that requires them to draw a big circle, and when you draw a big circle around St. Clair Shores, half your demographic is fish, and fish don’t buy drinks,” he said.

Because the state Liquor Control Commission does not allow municipalities to place any restrictions on businesses before granting a liquor license, City Council first voted 6-1, with Caron opposed, to grant Gaudino’s one of the remaining liquor licenses. But the city will also enter into a contract with Amato placing restrictions on the license, aiming to keep it in St. Clair Shores.

“I would like to see this license not be portable,” Councilwoman Candice Rusie said, making the suggestion for a contract restricting the license. “My point was so it’s not leaving the city.”

But when City Attorney Robert Ihrie began to lay out how such restrictions would be put in place in a contract, Amato said he agreed with the spirit of the conditions but would want to review a contract in writing before verbally agreeing to it. Debate among council members ran the gamut from restricting Amato from ever selling the business with the liquor license to allowing him to be able to do so after operating the business in the city for a certain number of years.

“There are a number of little avenues, of ways you can get around that,” Ihrie said. “I just need to hear a commitment from him, on the record, that he understands, that he is willing to enter into a contract with the city, so that license can’t leave the city of St. Clair Shores.”

“You have my commitment to that, if the language reflects the intent and demeanor you just expressed,” Amato said.

A motion requiring a contract between the city and Amato that the license must stay in the city was approved 6-1, with Caron opposed.

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