A Vancouver restaurateur is trying to persuade others in his industry to back a legal challenge against a proposed new Vancouver restaurant bylaw.
On October 8, council voted unanimously in favour of a motion allowing restaurants to serve liquor until 1 a.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends.
In return, the city will charge every food-primary licence holder an annual fee of $3 per seat. Council also voted in favour of asking the director of legal services to return with a bylaw that reflects council's wishes.
In an October 21 e-mail addressed to his “friends in the restaurant industry”, James Iranzad claimed that the city slipped in two “very critical subsections” at the 11th hour into the proposed bylaw extending liquor hours of service.
He stated that the first affects the 20 percent of food-primary-licensed restaurants that are allowed to close later than 1 a.m.
Iranzad, operating partner of Corkscrew Entertainment, stated that as of January 1, 2010, the city will require them to close at 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
This, he clamed, will have the effect of stripping these restaurants of a portion of their licences between Monday and Thursday.
He noted that they “undoubtedly paid a premium” for these licences, and the city won’t allow any grandfathering of their right to remain open after 1 a.m. on weekdays.
In addition, Iranzad wrote, all restaurants will be required to sell as much food as alcohol, and drinks could only be served with a meal. He stated that this means, in effect, that the old 50-50 rule is back.
“The days of ordering a quality bottle of wine would be over, by law,” he claimed.
Iranzad pointed out that this will affect every restaurant in the city. He added that council has also eliminated past loopholes by changing a previous 24-hour sampling to eight-hour sampling.
“This now gives them the power to put all of us under a single umbrella and effectively fine or suspend us at will,” he wrote. “Regardless of the economic conditions of the past year, margin structures and price ceilings make it virtually impossible financially for the majority of restaurants to bend to such a blanket policy, or for guests to have to consume the amount of food that would be necessary for restaurants to survive, let alone be profitable.”
Iranzad’s company owns three West Side restaurants: Hell’s Kitchen, the Flying Tiger, and Abigail’s Party.
“We have retained a highly experienced consultant in Randy Olafson as well as legal counsel from Lawson Lundell and are planning to file a writ with the Supreme Court of BC to block these two subsections,” Iranzad wrote. “Council is well aware of the tenuous nature of these measures, and their questionable tactics, in setting them into place as subsections, and have thus placed a ”˜bucket clause’ allowing them to remove the subsections easily without compromising the rest of the bylaw, or suffering too much embarrassment should we manage to organize ourselves enough to block them. They are betting on our apathy and lack of organization.”
Iranzad stated that a “preliminary group” met last week and will regroup later this week, likely on Thursday (October 29).
“We need every restaurant operator possible to attend this coming meeting so as to allow us to work together and present a powerful message,” he wrote. “A contribution of $250 per restaurant will be requested to fund our legal counsel and consultant and I can assure that is a paltry amount in comparison to the fines, trouble, and loss of business we will all face if this measure gets passed into law.”
He noted that the per-seat fee will fund a task force of inspectors, which he described as “food police”, with a “sole mandate” to enforce the 50/50 law.
Iranzad also stated that council intends on allowing fines up to $15,000.
“I don’t have to tell you how punitive and disproportionate of an amount that is,” he added.
He wrote that the city was motivated to do this because it’s broke “and this is an effective way to raise money through fees and fines.
Iranzad also claimed that liquor-industry lobbying also played a role.
“The liquor primary lobby, very well organized and funded, has put a great deal of pressure to have the two subsections listed above added to the extension of hours bylaw to make it almost impossible for the public to consume alcohol at food primary establishments, particularly late at night, without breaking the law,” he stated.