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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen4:13 pmJan 18, 20150

Not so fast!

Somehow Shake Shack got a liquor license, despite law that says fast food joints aren’t supposed to have them.

Above: It’s burgers and fries, it comes in disposable paper and plastic containers but don’t call it fast food!

If we had a dollar for every time Liquor Board Commissioner Dana Petersen Moore raised a skeptical eyebrow during one of the board’s Thursday hearings, we’d be wealthy indeed.

She did it when the attorney and applicants from Shake Shack came before them, asking for a new liquor license for the restaurant planned at 400 East Pratt Street, across from the Inner Harbor.

The application had no opposition (the Downtown Partnership and Waterfront Partnership both supported them), and the chain’s attorney said they had invested $543,000 to date in the establishment, being designed to seat 124 inside and 20 outside. (A minimum investment of $500,000 is required to be issued a new license in Baltimore.)

But Moore spotted one potential problem. By law, fast food restaurants aren’t supposed to be given liquor licenses in Baltimore city.

“How do you differ from McDonald’s or Burger King?” she asked, according to the account of the January 8 hearing in the Community Law Center’s Booze News blog. Moore noted that she’d seen a news article referring to Shake Shack as a fast food chain.

Fine Dining Ethos

The applicants assured Moore the article was wrong.

“We’ve always used a fine dining ethos, our chefs, our culinary director is from a four-star restaurant in New York City,” said Shake Shack CEO Randall Garutti, adding that the burgers are “hormone free” and “cooked-to-order.”

He said wine and beer sales at Shake Shack, an international chain that started in New York, average 3-5% of total sales.

“So you’re not serving the food in a paper bag?” Moore said.

“Well, you may take it away,” Garutti said. So apparently, yes.

His attorney Leanne Schrecengost jumped in to help out. She noted that while there are no waiters, there is a sort of host who “hands out paper menus” and guides people to available tables. “A hospitality champ,” this person is called.

That information was enough for Moore apparently. She and fellow Commissioner Harvey E. Jones and Chairman Thomas Ward voted unanimously to approve Shake Shack’s application. This despite Article 2B section 6-201(d)(1)(viii)(4) which states that a “license may not be issued for use in an establishment that is a fast food style restaurant.”

The law, Booze News points out, does not define fast food.

To read more about what happened at this hearing, see the full post about it by Rebecca Lundberg Witt on her Booze News blog.

(This is the same hearing where the commissioners suspended the license of Maxie’s Pizza and Grille, the Charles Village bar that had City Councilman Robert Curran as a co-licensee.)

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