New restaurant owners calling since Damascus alcohol ban lifted -- Gazette.Net


Now that sit-down restaurants in Damascus can sell beer and wine on site, the door is open to the likelihood new restaurants will open in town.

“Several [potential tenants] have expressed interest, and we’ve reached out to them,” said Chris Bell, vice president of Hekemian & Co. of Hackensack, N.J., which owns and manages the Damascus Shopping Center on Main Street.

“We’re already in conversations with them,” said Bell, about two vacant spaces in the recently expanded center that he believes would suit restaurant tenants.

“We want to get the mix right,” he said. “We don’t want to be restaurant heavy.”

Bell said restaurant owners had approached him about moving in but said it wasn’t financially feasible unless voters in the 12th electoral district lifted the longstanding ban on alcohol in Damascus.

The referendum passed by a 2 to 1 margin on Nov. 6, and soon afterwards Bell’s phone started ringing.

“It started that fast,” said Bell, who declined to name the interested parties.

“There’s definitely a pent-up demand,” said Bell, adding that any leasing agreement will hinge on getting Class H licenses approved by the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners.

“It’s probably six months before we end up with a deal,” Bell said.

Kathie Durbin, a division chief with the county’s Department of Liquor Control, said as of Nov. 19, the department had received three inquiries but no applications, she said.

A Class H license allows a bar area where patrons can order glasses of beer or wine for consumption on the premises, provided the restaurant has a kitchen and serves more than snacks with a menu that could include foods such as soups, sandwiches and salads. The legislative wording approved by Damascus voters in House Bill 690 requires only that patrons in the establishment be seated.

“There’s nothing in the wording that precludes having a bar area,” Durbin said.

There is also no limit to the number of Class H licenses that can be issued in Damascus, Durbin added.

Board hearings to review license applications are advertised in newspapers and posted on the commission website 30 days in advance, she said.

A bright orange sign is also posted at the location applying for a license, she said.

The Dec. 19 effective date of the legislation means that with hearings held every two weeks and the 30-day posting period, a restaurant with all its paperwork in order could begin serving beer and wine by the end of January, Durbin said.

Owners of two Damascus businesses — The Music Cafe on Ridge Road and New York J&P Pizza in the Weis supermarket shopping center on Ridge Road — have already said they plan to apply for licenses.

Ray Schupp, principal with Next Realty Mid-Atlantic based in McLean, Va., that leases space to tenants in the Weis center, said he has not been approached by outside restaurants about moving in.

Still vacant in the Weis center is a space formerly filled by the Hair Cuttery. At 1,300 square feet, it is relatively small for a restaurant but not out of bounds, as the number of small and quick-serve restaurants with beer and wine licenses is growing, he said.

A second vacancy, formerly occupied by a video store, will be filled by the end of the year, said Schupp, who declined to name the new tenant.