Liquor Licenses Prove Critical for Local Restaurants

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Lint outlined the manifold varieties of licenses available and the restrictions that they entail.

“You can have just wine and malt, you can have all alcohol,” Lint said. “There are some that are just breweries, like Cambridge Brewing Company, and then the hours are different, the days of the week might be different.”

According to Lint, the most expensive licenses can cost around $6,000. Restaurants are often willing to pay the extra sum because the more expensive license comes with greater freedom to sell what they want, when they want to.

Lint estimated that the process for issuing a new license could take anywhere from four to ten weeks, depending on whether there are issues with state compliance.

Although owners reported a variety of experiences regarding the licensing application, most noted that obtaining a liquor license can make or break an establishment—particularly in Harvard Square.

CERTIFICATE FOR SURVIVAL

According to Sahagun, when Cancun Taqueria opened its doors in October 2013, it became immediately apparent that a liquor license would be required for the business to turn a profit.

He recounted how customers constantly asked whether the restaurant served trademark Mexican drinks, such as margaritas, before Cancun Taqueria acquired its license.

“It’s very important, especially in the area,” Sahagun said. “People want to have Mexican food with a drink. If we didn't [serve alcohol], they would just not come, and that’s one of the problems we ran into.”

After acquiring a liquor license about a month ago, business at the Taqueria improved dramatically, Sahagun said.

Many other Cambridge establishment owners offered similar perspectives, highlighting the importance of a liquor license.

Dan B. Hogan, executive director at the folk music venue Club Passim, noted that although he had no difficulty obtaining a special non-profit liquor license, the permit has proved critical to his business. According to Hogan, beer and wine sales account for almost 100 percent of its surplus revenue.

For restaurants, the necessity of a liquor license is even more acute.

Jen Fields, the general manager at Alden & Harlow, said that it is easier to make money from alcohol sales than from food. She noted that the perishability of food was one reason why alcohol generally produces wider profit margins.

Kari Kuelzer, the co-owner and general manager of Grendel’s Den, also highlighted how restaurants need licenses to make a profit.

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