We didn’t give out an award for “Best Loophole Exploitation” in our recent COVID-19-themed Best of the Twin Cities issue. But if we had, it absolutely would have gone to Matty O’Reilly.
Like a lot of local restaurant owners, O’Reilly’s been pushing the state legislature to pass a bill that would let restaurants sell beer and wine with takeout.
Unlike other local restaurant owners, he simply… started doing it. In late March, two of his places (Bar Brigade and Sandy's Tavern) sold wine for $20 with your to-go meal, thanks to a “gray area” in liquor law that lets diners take unfinished bottles home. They’d open the wine, pour a splash out in a somewhat lovely incidental homage to the homies, and pop the cork back in before sending guests on their way.
It didn’t last long: O’Reilly tells us he got a call from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association maybe a day after the Star Tribune reported on his little curbside vino hustle.
“I knew I was going to get in trouble. It’s illegal,” he laughs. But he wasn’t really trying to get away with it. He was trying to signal boost a petition in support of to-go beer and wine sales that was making the internet rounds. “I knew [lawmakers] wouldn’t see this petition for a month. But I also know they read the paper.”
Naturally, O’Reilly thinks it’s “a very logical move” to let restaurants start doing takeout beer and wine, something the Senate voted in favor of Thursday (65-2) and which is likely to pass during the House's floor session today.
What’s the logical cost, though? Restaurants can’t offer liquor store low prices, right? When you’re selling one six-pack at a time, the scale’s just not there. But if a single Summit EPA costs $6 when you’re out to eat, does that mean you’re looking at a $36 six-pack?
Mucci’s Italian owner Tim Niver says he’s definitely into adding beer and wine to their to-go menu (assuming the bill passes). “Pricing from our standpoint should be just slightly above liquor store pricing,” Niver says. “The goal is simple: Add convenience for our diner.”
"Customers should expect the cost to be very comparable to what they'd find at a liquor store," adds David Benowitz at Craft and Crew Hospitality, whose restaurants include The Howe Daily Kitchen and Bar and Stanley's NE Bar Room. For his places, that means a price point of about $13-$24 for a bottle of wine, and between $8-$13 for a six-pack. "We recognize that what you'd typically pay for a bottle of wine in a restaurant doesn't make sense in these circumstances."
At Travail and Pig Ate My Pizza in Robbinsdale, chef and co-owner Mike Brown says he also sees this as a matter of convenience for folks—you can grab everything at once rather than running around town. They’ve already been selling crowlers, since they’ve got an on-site brewery, and they’ll add wine if and when they’re able.
“Obviously you’re not getting glass service, and prices will probably be lowered a little bit considering,” says Brown, who's also behind Minnesota BBQ Co. in northeast Minneapolis. But he notes that their selection has been curated for you, to pair with the food you’re getting—even if you’re not eating in their dining room—by people who know a lot about wine.
At Travail and PAMP, they’ll suggest bottles to go with the experience, which is a little different than swinging by the liquor store and haphazardly snagging the first Malbec you see. “There’s some tact,” Brown says. “There’s a little bit of the service end of things there.”
Meanwhile, at Matty O’Reilly’s restaurants, he says they’ll resume selling bottles of wine for $20 when they’re able, and add beer for 2 or 3 bucks a can (depending on the brand).
“It’s product I just have sitting there anyway,” he says. “I just want to sell what I have and what I paid for.” Might as well turn that sunk cost into revenue and get the stuff to folks who can drink it.
“We definitely won’t be looking for the markup and percentage that we try to achieve at the restaurant level, simply because I see it as an incremental sale with basically no additional labor,” he continues.“All in all, our offerings will be affordable and accessible, very much in place to augment food sales and perhaps keep our customers safer by making one less trip to a liquor store.”
Brown adds, “It’s great that people can do beer and wine. Everyone’s gonna do it to the best of their ability, it’s going to increase revenue by probably 10 to 20 percent depending on where you’re at and how you’re selling it.
“That’s the adaptation we’re all asking for … to still be able to provide some amount of hospitality during what’s happening right now.”