Bon Appetit, the food service management company the College contracts with, obtained the wrong liquor license for The Pub on the advice of Bon Appetit’s corporate lawyers, delaying sale of beer and wine at the Pub for several months.
David Sansotta, Bon Appetit’s General Manager at the College, informed students via email that, “due to misinterpretation of local alcohol service regulations on our part, we have been forced to suspend the sale of beer and wine temporarily as we pursue alternate licensing options.” In a follow up interview, Sansottta said Bon Appetit obtained a Statewide Caterers Licence, also known as a SCAT License.
According to Maryland State Law, a SCAT License allows Bon Appetit to “serve alcoholic beverages at a catered event throughout the state to individuals 21 years of age or older on an unlicensed premises or on a premises for which a temporary alcoholic beverages license has been issued by the local board of license commissioners.”
The misinterpretation was with what constitutes an event, according to Patrick Hunt, Procurement Officer and Director of Auxiliary Operations for St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “We told [Bon Appetit] to get a license and they went to their corporate owners, the Compass Group, to ask what is the best way,” said Hunt. He said the Compass Group, a North Carolina-based company of which Bon Appetit is a subsidiary, said there were two options, one being a county liquor license which would take several months.
Since neither Bon Appetit or the Compass Group are local companies, to obtain a county liquor license “they would need to set up another legal entity and that would take a while,” said Hunt. He also said the county liquor license requires three local residents who are also officers of the organization to put their name on the application and be held legally responsible for all sales under the license.
“The Compass Group’s legal authority said [Bon Appetit] should get a SCAT instead,” said Hunt.
A SCAT license still requires Bon Appetit to get approval for each event from the County Liquor Board. It was when they went to get approval for the first few weekends the county put up a red flag, according to both Sansotta and Hunt.
“The county said a SCAT licence cannot be used for day to day operations,” said Hunt. Though the county did give approval to serve beer and wine for the grand opening weekend under Bon Appetit’s SCAT License.
“The interpretation by Bon Appetit of what constitutes an event was much broader than the county’s interpretation of what constitutes an event,” said Hunt. Bon Appetit’s lawyers said as long as there is an event of some kind, they could use the SCAT license, which is why Student Activities was asked to hold events like karaoke every night The Pub was open.
The misinterpretation by the Compass Group’s lawyers comes despite a meeting between local Bon Appetit, college and county representatives last spring. According to Hunt, the county told Bon Appetit to obtain a county liquor license just like any bar or restaurant would obtain.
“The Pub is a place of business,” said St. Mary’s County Alcohol Beverage Board Administrator Tamara Hildebrand, who will handle The Pub’s application for the proper county liquor license when brought before the Board. “While [the College] discussed [with us] how to apply for the license, they haven’t come in with an application. We don’t know why.”
“Depending on gross receipts, The Pub would apply for a tavern or restaurant license,” said Hildebrand. “Either way, the license would cost $650 per year.” This would mean that whether The Pub received a liquor license as an institution primarily selling food (as a restaurant) or alcoholic beverages (as a tavern), the cost would only be $650 for the entire year.
According to Hildebrand, every application requires a petition that bears the signatures of 15 registered St. Mary’s County voters who live within a five-mile radius of the property to be licensed. This list is sent to the Board of Elections, which will approve the licensing if at least 10 of the 15 signatories are verified as St. Mary’s County residents and registered voters.
While the College has yet to submit the application for the Alcohol Beverage Board to review, the Board itself will take into consideration the College’s recent licensing violations during the institution’s licensing hearing. The Board meets the second Thursday of each month. Given that the deadline for the October meetings have passed, The Pub would not be considered for licensing until the first November meeting even if the application was submitted this week.
Hunt and Sansotta said Bon Appetit has begun the process of applying for the proper license and in the meantime they will look for opportunities to use the SCAT license at events such as Hawktoberfest. For now, The Pub will continue to serve late night food Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which according to Hunt has been very successful even without alcohol sales.