New Wine Bar gets Liquor License Transfer from Council

'Twisted Root Cellars' plans to open in space at 181 E. Main St.

The owners of a proposed new wine bar in downtown Kent received a variance for a liquor license transfer from Kent City Council Wednesday.

The area investors behind Twisted Root Cellars are looking to transfer a liquor license from another community into Kent in order to open a wine bar at 181 E. Main St. inside the Kent Stage building.

Kent has existing regulations for allowing the transfer of liquor licenses via Ohio's "Trex" liquor license transfer process, but Twisted Root Cellars don't meet the existing requirements Kent City Council established in 2012 in order to sign off on such a transfer.

The existing guidelines set by council spell out requirements that must be met before council would sign off on a trex request. The existing guidelines are:

  • The entity wanting to bring the trex license transfer into the city must invest a minimum $750,000 in the physical structure (or) building that will hold the license
  • The building (or) structure that will hold the license must have a minimum of 4,000 square feet of dining space
  • Alcohol sales cannot account for more than 25 percent of total retail sales at the establishment
  • Council must review and approve or disapprove all trex transfers

The space for Twisted Root Cellars only has potentially 1,400 square feet, alcohol sales are projected to account for 84 percent of sales and the structural investment would be about $160,000.

All of those numbers fall well short of the city's requirements.

But council members voted to grant a variance from the trex requirements in order to allow Twisted Root Cellars to transfer in a new liquor license in order to open the new wine bar.

The bar will be co-owned by Gary Gardner, Chris Copley and Patrick Madonio, all three of whom are graduates of Theodore Roosevelt High School. 

Gardner, who formally asked council for the variance, talked at length about their professional and personal backgrounds and touted their educational accomplishments — all three men hold advanced degrees.

Gardner, an attorney by trade, is general counsel to an Akron development firm. Madonio is president of Brimfield Insurance Group. And Copley, a military veteran, works in the medical field.

"I think there’s a lot of fear … based on past bad things," Gardner said. "For the longest time Kent has had nothing in town here but bars that served the university students."

He said they believe the wine bar will cater to an underserved, adult population in Kent.

The project that the wine bar will have a maximum capacity of 50 people and will have seven employees in the first year. The majority of the seating space will be on the main floor, but the basement of the space will include limited space for a wine cellar and seating for wine tastings, Gardner said.

Kent Economic Development Director Dan Smith said the business owners are planning, for now, to obtain a liquor permit that would only allow the sale of beer and wine.

Several members of council said they viewed the proposal as a quality investment downtown as part of the redevelopment.

But some expressed concerns about what they called the "worst-case scenario" if the wine bar closed and the city was left with one more new liquor license for a potentially low-quality bar to obtain.

"It’s the issue of what happens if something were to go wrong," Councilman Garret Ferrara said. "That’s the issue I wrestle with."

Last month council voted to have the city administration review the guidelines for approving trex transfers that were set in 2012 and adjust them if necessary.

Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said city staff are still reviewing the existing guidelines and talking about potential changes, but they have yet to recommend any adjustments in the policy to council.

"We set the bar … for the kind of establishment council was hopeful to see," Ruller said.  “We haven’t found one that met those (requirements) yet."

Councilwoman Tracy Wallach said she wanted to see council review those guidelines and adjust them if deemed necessary before approving any trex transfers into the city.

"I want to put a cap on how many bars we have," she said.

Wallach and Councilman John Kuhar cast the only votes against granting the variance to allow Gardner and his partners a trex transfer.

The variance council approved Wednesday comes with the condition that council must sign off on any subsequent sale of the liquor license attached to Twisted Root Cellars.

"I think this fits in with our economic vision for the downtown," Councilwoman Heidi Shaffer said.

moral concerned kent historian neighbor man April 04, 2013 at 05:09 AM
please ask council to define, in their opinion, what a "low quality bar" is. i suspect their definition and mine are two very different things.
Chris (Kit) Myers April 04, 2013 at 05:32 AM
This particular transfer falls so far short of the current requirements that it makes me wonder how any council members could possibly have approved it. Is "... our economic vision for the downtown" based on nothing more than the whim of council at any particular time? On what, exactly, was this one that was so far off requirements, based? Personalities? The fact that they are Roosevelt boys? The fact that they are successful? That they have advanced degrees? All those are nice, but do they make up for falling so far short of requirements? This certainly has the appearance of a "good old boy" approval. Further, council has spoken of "low-quality bars." Do we have a definition of "low-quality bar" or is it just one of those things that we know when we see it? If council is going to reject someone's application for a variance it should be based on something substantive. At least name a "low-quality bar" so that future councils have a standard to avoid. If another bar is part of the economic vision for the downtown, I think that perhaps council should not be surprised if College Street or University Drive erupt the first nice weekend. After all, and deny it if you want, alcohol consumption IS a major part of what makes Kent a "destination." I am prepared for a blasting, and no, I am not going to move to Hartville.
Desmo April 04, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Who cares about the minimum requirements as long as they don’t have a huge, gaudy, blinding sign like Jimmy John’s.
FillerUp April 04, 2013 at 12:31 PM
Kit - when was the last time you had ANYTHING positive to say about any of the developments downtown. You continue to use Patch to spew your vitriol about anything and everything new in this city. I would much rather see a new "wine bar" than a new tattoo parlor. And let's be honest, an upscale wine bar falls well short of a night club where you traditionally see college students binge drinking!
Annie April 04, 2013 at 12:55 PM
I have two thoughts/questions. 1) I’m curious what other bar and business owners think about allowing Trex permits. Won’t this, essentially, devalue the liquor licenses that they had to buy (and that cost much more than a Trex permit)? 2) Weren’t there other businesses interested in obtaining Trex permits who were turned away? This entire situation strikes me as unfair and an example of City Council making rules up as they go along without forethought or accountability.
Teresa K. April 04, 2013 at 01:16 PM
Annie: on #1: I don't know. on #2: there were some women I believe who were wanted a trex permit and were turned away or withdrew. I think their place had more square footage than the trophy place. They may have had other problems, not sure. The entire situation IS unfair. This location isn't CLOSE to meeting any of the city's requirements. I give some credit to the two council members who didn't vote yes.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! April 04, 2013 at 01:24 PM
An under served adult population? Naturally more alcohol is what is missing from Kent. Drunk driving is on the rise in Kent and Portage county as a whole. Of course we need more alcohol. What else is there to do in Kent but get drunk?
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! April 04, 2013 at 01:28 PM
This wine bar is in the location that the trophy store stood for many, many years. Four seasons trophy was booted out. They did and still do good business. But you can't get drunk off their wares. And in downtown Kent, getting either blitzed or tattooed is just the right thing to do.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! April 04, 2013 at 01:29 PM
I couldn't imagine being a recovering alcoholic...
Teresa K. April 04, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Chris: I appreciate all of your comments. I don't find them negative. Honest, yes; negative no. Sometimes, the truth isn't very pretty so people need to put a spin on it to make things seem more "positive". You bring up a wonderful point on the low quality bars. No need to move...
Sa;;y April 04, 2013 at 01:53 PM
The rules were obviously put into place to weed out anyone city leaders don't want in the city. Since they can "override" and approve at their discretion this gives them total control. I, myself, think the rules were too strict to begin with to encourage new business. That said, they need to allow all new businesses the opportunity and not just those that they have personal relationships/friendship with.
Sa;;y April 04, 2013 at 01:58 PM
P.S. I also think it is ridiculous that we have a limit on the number of liquor licenses but when we run out we can just transfer licenses from elsewhere.
Randy McFarland April 04, 2013 at 02:00 PM
Chris (Kit) Myers 1:32 am on Thursday, April 4, 2013 " our economic vision for the downtown" based on nothing more than the whim of council at any particular time? On what, exactly, was this one that was so far off requirements, based? Personalities? The fact that they are Roosevelt boys? The fact that they are successful? That they have advanced degrees? All those are nice, but do they make up for falling so far short of requirements? This certainly has the appearance of a "good old boy" approval."......... Yes, sounds about right to me. If you want examples of low quality bars there are at least 4 down there already. And I'm not meaning the bars but I think the type of customers they attract may make them a "low-quality bar". Please don't move to Hartville, we need more people in Kent that think like this. ;-)
Randy McFarland April 04, 2013 at 02:07 PM
I agree with you 100%. The first two sentences especially. I also feel that worrying that a business will fail is inappropriate. Every tenant in all that new construction could fail because, well, its in Kent. Didn't see them worrying about it then when they tore half the city down.
Randy McFarland April 04, 2013 at 02:10 PM
One thing for you all to consider. I see most saying that the wine draws the older crowd. I don't know if you pay attention to the " trendy " things but wine is fast becoming the cool thing to do. Its not just a pastime for more mature individuals anymore.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! April 04, 2013 at 04:03 PM
Why else would it be coming to downtown Kent?
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! April 04, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Can't Kent encourage real paying jobs to come to town? Food service and hospitality as far as the eye can see.
Laurel Myers Hurst April 04, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Annie, this is why your comment and Kit's are so complementary. If others were turned away based on the high requirements of the 2012 Trex permit guidelines, I should think the city could be LEGALLY liable for granting this waiver and discriminating against other potential business owners. Plus, if the new owners sign off on the ability to sell their liquor license and the business fails, they will have absolutely NO assets at liquidation. Indefensible, random, unsupported, erratic behavior from the council on this one. Wallach and Kuhar got this one right! Change the ordinance/guidelines, then accept the business plan. [BTW, who thought any business start-up could meet the Trex guidelines now in place? Ruller seems to ask the same.]
Laurel Myers Hurst April 04, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Oh, yes. Let's start a bake sale to hire counsel for them!!
Laurel Myers Hurst April 04, 2013 at 05:42 PM
"Them" the women who wanted to do the same...
Russ Lilly April 04, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Typically, if a local government operates much at variance, the attorneys will have a field day in court. At some point -- and perhaps it has been reached here -- the regulation process will become completely porous and inadequate. An example, the inability of the city to stop Sheetz from dropping one of its monster sized service stations on Kent's west side at precisely the wrong spot in terms of traffic management and overall development goals. . That aside, economic factors alone should determine if a bar is a shot and pour place or a trendy one with microbrews and ferns. And they are really stretching the definition here that they have set. Better to redefine the process to allow universally for smaller establishments to utilize the process than punch a gaping hole into the existing framework. Of course, it is easy to snigger up your sleeve when the process here seems to be: you're the right sorts, you're local, so why not.
moral concerned kent historian neighbor man April 04, 2013 at 06:09 PM
i sure hope kent citizens wake up and vote new representatives into city council. clean sweep - let's put an end to this good ol' boy favoritism crap and move forward with an ethical and transparent city government that benefits all. those women who were declined a trex permit should sue council for discrimination as i suspect, quite strongly, that's what it was.
silly sally April 04, 2013 at 06:32 PM
i'll say from experience, there's more than one bar owner/manager etc who are unhappy with these trex licenses. they devalue existing licenses and over saturate the market. you can hate on the bars all you want, but the reality is they were the only businesses keeping downtown afloat for decades and paying taxes, some respect should be paid to those who have been downtown before the boom, and still stand to this day.
Idle Hillbilly April 04, 2013 at 10:07 PM
IDLE HILLBILLY As stated above, dropping the bottom out of the "required standards" to cover the "good ol boys" connection is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The council is well aware that Mr. Burbick had announced a wine bar with an entertainment venue that happens to be directly across the street. When Mr. Burbick shows up soon to request a trex approval, does the council go back to the "jump through hoops" standard that Mr. Burbicks current tenants had to address? Nothing like a stick-in-the eye for your $20 million investment.


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