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National coffee giant Starbucks will soon be serving beer and wine in five of its Utah stores.
The Seattle-based chain was granted a limited-service restaurant liquor license to cover all five stores from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) on Tuesday, the first company to do so since the Utah Legislature created the master license category in 2014.
Starbuck's beer and wine service won't begin immediately, as the five stores must first undergo remodeling to increase the kitchen and food preparation areas as well as create a state-mandated liquor dispensing area known as a Zion Curtain where alcohol is stored and dispensed out of sight from customers.
The participating Starbucks are located in Salt Lake City, Holladay, Farmington, Lehi and Park City. (See box for details.)
Once those stores meet DABC approval, Utahns can start enjoying Starbucks new evening dining program that offers small plates with wine and beer. The dining program is already in 10 states and 75 Starbucks across the country.
Customers will order at the counter and have their food and beverages delivered to their table by servers, Shannon Boldizsar, Starbucks' senior manager for government and community affairs, told the commission. Wine and beer service will start in the afternoon and will end 30 minutes before closing, which is 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, she said. Alcohol will not be sold to go, or at the drive-up windows.
Tuesday's decision also was noteworthy, as Starbucks and four other Utah restaurants were granted the last five limited-service restaurant licenses available in the state. Two more businesses that had applied for the beer and wine permits walked away empty-handed.
More limited-service restaurant licenses could become available next month if the population increases or if a restaurant closes or surrenders its license, DABC spokeswoman Vicki Ashby said. If not, the state will create a waiting list, much like it has for bar licenses, which also are in short supply.
The shortages are due to state law, which ties the number of state liquor licenses to population. The number of limited-service restaurant licenses, for example, is determined by dividing the state population by 7,493. With nearly 3 million people in Utah, that means the state can have 399 limited-service permits.
Under state law, restaurants with a limited-service liquor license can sell wine and beer as long as 70 percent of the overall sales is food, which includes coffee.
Starbucks officials told the commission they will easily meet the food/alcohol ratio. Managers say they only expect to serve 10 to 12 glasses of beer or wine a day at each location.
"Our intention with our Utah evening stores," said Starbucks district manager Lucas Wood, "is to expand the food and beverage menu without creating a drinking atmosphere."
Commissioner Neal Berube removed himself from the vote, saying his job as president and CEO of Associated Food Stores, which works with Starbucks, was a conflict of interest. The three remaining commissioners in attendance voted in favor of the proposal, although reservations were expressed about giving a major fast-food chain a liquor license.
"We have concerns that we might see a proliferation of this," said chairman John T. Nielsen. "But it ought to be clearly understood, that this is not to be considered a precedent, that we will review applications in the future on a case-by-case basis."