Hy-Vee has opened popular bar and grills inside its grocery stores in the metro area’s suburbs and was all set to do so this summer with a store in Kansas City, North.
But the store on Northeast Englewood Road ran headlong into the city’s liquor code restrictions and couldn’t sell liquor by the drink. All seven of the bartenders quit, and the market grill has been losing money every week.
Now the Kansas City Council is considering relaxing the rule to allow such market grills in groceries within city limits as well. It would open the door not just to Hy-Vee’s grocery restaurants but to similar concepts in Whole Foods, Sprouts and other grocery chains.
“The grocery business has changed over time,” 1st District at-large Councilman Scott Wagner told the City Council’s Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. He urged his colleagues to relax the city’s liquor rules to accommodate this change and let Kansas City groceries remain competitive with those in the suburbs.
The committee endorsed the change, and the full council takes up the measure for a vote Thursday.
The ordinance would allow the grocery store managing officer to apply for and receive any type of retail sales-by-drink license, which currently is not allowed in the code.
“A retail sales-by-drink license also allows the license holder to sell alcoholic beverages by the package,” a city fact sheet with the proposed ordinance said. “However, any store that sells gasoline, is a gasoline service station, or is a motor vehicle repair garage does not qualify to receive a retail sales by drink license.”
Scott Gilbert, director of the Hy-Vee store near Northeast Englewood Road and North Oak Trafficway, told the committee that the market grill concept began about five years ago and has been successfully adopted elsewhere in the metro area, including in Gladstone, Raytown and Independence in Missouri, and in Mission, Overland Park and Olathe in Kansas.
That’s why he assumed it wouldn’t be an issue in the renovated Kansas City store, especially since it already had its new state liquor license approval. But just before the store prepared to open its new bar/restaurant on June 16, he learned that Kansas City’s existing liquor code didn’t allow groceries to sell liquor by the drink.
“We just didn’t foresee this,” Gilbert acknowledged.
Jim Ready, who oversees the liquor code as manager of Kansas City’s Regulated Industries Division, said he had no problem with this change. He told the committee that safeguards for neighborhoods and public safety are still in place. Any applicant still has to get neighborhood consents and must meet the city’s retail-by-package density requirement, to ensure there aren’t too many liquor establishments in a concentrated area.
Heather Hall, the 1st District councilwoman, initially said she was a bit uncomfortable with the concept, and she wondered if customers would be wandering through the grocery store while drinking glasses of wine. She also questioned whether inebriated people would congregate in the grocery parking lots.
But Gilbert assured her that no one will be allowed to take wine or beer out of the restaurant into the grocery area. He said none of the 92 Midwestern stores with this concept has experienced problems with intoxicated patrons and said the stores take very seriously their responsibility to run these establishments professionally.