EASTHAM — The select board voted four to one on Jan. 4 not to renew Willy’s World’s all-alcohol retail license and common victualer’s license, saying 2018 changes at the facility require a new application.
“In 2018, the café was dismantled and it’s no longer adjacent to the kitchen,” said Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. The bar and tables had been moved and “basically, the whole operation, except for the kitchen, was relocated to the lobby,” she said at the board’s public hearing.
“My conclusion here is that we have a different license premise,” Beebe said. She noted that, under the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) rules, Willy’s should have informed both the ABCC and the town about those changes.
A second issue, she said, was that, since 2018, the café-restaurant was no longer functioning as a restaurant.
“The board of health has issued a retail-only food permit for this establishment for the last two years and for 2021,” said Beebe. “We did receive today a new menu from the applicant, and it looked great. So, it looks like she’s trying to make progress towards re-establishing a restaurant in the location, and that’s awesome, but, to me, that still indicates we have a new application and not a renewal.”
Attorney Ben Zehnder, representing Willy’s owner Barbara Niggel, said the submission of the new menu was in response to “pushback at the administrative level.”
“There is nothing that says it has to be hot, there’s nothing that says it has to be prepared on a particular type of stove,” Zehnder said of the food that defines a restaurant. “Tying this to the health approval is a technocratic way of non-renewing a license,” he said.
Zehnder also said the serving area’s change of location was within the same floor area, and that exits and entrances haven’t changed.
“That is what the ABCC is concerned about,” Zehnder said. “Obviously, they want to know the service area is contained and controlled.” He argued that the change “doesn’t in any significant way change the service area of the license.” And he noted the town had inspected the property annually, including since 2018, and had not raised issues over the change in service area.
Board vice chair Aimee Eckman said that, while perhaps the town should have done something when the café switched from offering prepared food to prepackaged items, “It’s really not our problem that she’s scrambling two hours before the meeting to come up with a kitchen so we can approve a common victualer license.”
Eckman also expressed concerns about the alcohol license: “We don’t have a plan for who’s going to be serving the alcohol, and we don’t have proof that they’re ABCC certified. There are still a lot of missing pieces.”
Niggel pointed out that Eckman was at the facility when the fire marshal did a walk through. “You saw where the bar was,” she said, “where it has been for the service area for the bar and for the food since 2018. I’m only doing minimal. I’m not even really trying to open this during Covid, but I want my licenses. I paid for them every year. I paid for them in 2020 when we weren’t open for seven months.”
Board member Arthur Autorino, who cast the dissenting vote, suggested the board define what the applicant needed to address within a given time frame. “What I’m trying to do is help a business succeed,” said Autorino.
The applicant has five days to appeal the board’s decision to the ABCC, which could remand the application back to the town. Willy’s may file an application for new licenses at any time, said town counsel Jeffrey Blake.