Tom & Ray’s Restaurant on Main Street is the latest restaurant to win a license to serve beer and wine in Damascus.
The eatery won its license on April 17 and plans to begin serving beer and wine in mid May.
Jerry’s Subs and Pizza on Ridge Road hope to be next. That restaurant has also applied for a license, with a hearing scheduled for June 5.
“It’s new for me, and a little scary … but I’m excited about it, for the customers and me,” said Gary Bellinson , owner of Tom &Ray’s.
Bellinson said he’s in the process of training his employees and has tentatively planned a Friday happy hour on May 17 to begin serving.
“I’m doing this to compete and to change with the times and to offer more to our customers,” he said. “I thought it was time.”
Bellinson said he plans to keep the same hours until he sees a rise in business. Current hours are 6 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.
“This place is like a second home,” said regular customer Robert Burdette, Jr., 53, who has lived in Damascus all his life.
“I like to come in for coffee, breakfast – there’re good people up here,” he said. “It’s a good place to talk to people and … catch up with things that are going on right now.”
“I hope that it works for him and brings in new people,” Burdette said. “I guess we won’t really know until it gets going.”
Residents voted in November 2012 to lift restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Damascus, which had prohibited restaurants from serving alcohol for 80 years. The vote enables restaurants to sell beer and wine, to be consumed only on site.
In 2013, the Music Cafe, New York J&P Pizza and Ledo’s Pizza in Damascus were granted licenses and began serving beer and wine as a complement with meals. As intended, revenue from alcohol sales has remained low compared to food sales, according to owners.
A Damascus institution, Bellinson’s father, Tom Bellinson opened Tom &Ray’s in 1960 with his business partner Ray Luhn.
Gary Bellinson started working in the restaurant in 1972 and is now the sole owner. He also runs the Tom & Ray’s catering business.
In recent decades, Damascus has grown and changed with the addition of fast food outlets, including McDonald’s, Burger King and several pizza parlors.
Long-time customers are also disappearing.
“The old Tom & Ray’s customers are passing away, and some [of the ones still living] can’t get here,” Bellinson said.
Also taking its toll has been the lingering effect of the recession.
“The economy is terrible, it’s fallen off the map,” Bellinson said. “Any little edge can help.”