By Dale Jones
Things did not go easy for Michael Catanese at last week’s Trussville City Council meeting. What seemed to be a typical request for a liquor license turned into quite an ordeal for the owner of the new Courtyard Oyster Bar and Grill in Trussville.
Catanese, who has been the owner of Courtyard 280 for almost a decade and who owns another location in Alabaster, addressed the council, handing them menus and explaining his plans for his new endeavor in Trussville.
“During the day we will be a meat and two like we are at our Alabaster location, and at night, in addition to our menu items, we will have live entertainment and drinks for our patrons as well,” explained Catanese.
Formerly The Shack Bar and Grill, which closed in late February, Catanese will occupy the building located just off of I-59 on Chalkville Mountain Lane.
Although other eating establishments in Trussville serve alcohol, as did The Shack, council members grilled Catanese for almost 30 minutes regarding everything from not being part of the Responsible Vendor Program, to asking about incidents he has dealt with at his other locations, going as far as to tell him that his new location would be closely monitored should his request for a liquor license be passed.
When Catanese informed the council that he was not presently part of the Responsible Vendor Program, Councilman Alan Taylor asked him what his procedure was for trying to identify possible underaged patrons.
“Basically, if anyone walks in and wants to buy alcohol we card them,” said Catanese. “If we have questions, we refer to our handbook which is actually more rigid than the guidelines in the Responsible Vendor Program.”
Catanese said it has always been their policy to card everyone requesting alcohol so as to not have any discrepancies amongst customers.
Operating hours also seemed to be a point of contention with some of the council members.
With plans to operate from 11 a.m. until 5 a.m., and until 2 a.m. on Saturday evenings, there were concerns that Catanese was simply opening a bar. Catanese continued to reassure elected officials that his establishment would offer an open kitchen all the way up until closing time and that employees from other businesses, who clocked out from their jobs at late hours, often frequented his other locations because there were not a lot of other options.
“We serve a lot of food to people who get off later, and we do have entertainment up to around 1 a.m., but many employees from other businesses will come in for dinner when other people are already in bed.”
Councilman Taylor asked Catanese if either of his other locations had been cited for selling to underaged patrons.
“No sir,” replied Catanese. “That is one thing I am a stickler about and we have never had a citation from the ABC board of any kind. I am proud about saying that.”
After asking him how long his other locations had been opened, Councilman Brian Plant continued to push the issue with Catanese.
“What about police calls?” Plant asked. “Have you ever had the police to come out to your other locations?”
Catanese replied in the affirmative, explaining that there were various reasons Police had been called out to his other locations.
“It is our policy that if someone is too intoxicated to drive, we will call authorities or a cab to have the person taken care of safely.”
“Have you had calls for drunk and disorderly conduct?” Plant asked.
Again, Catanese said it had happened before at both of his locations, but that authorities had legally and safely handled the issues.
Plant wanted to know how many times it had happened, to which Catanese replied that, after nine years in business, he did not know specifically how many calls had been made.
From there, Plant recognized that while both of the other two Courtyard locations had a club license, Catanese was requesting a liquor license for a restaurant.
Catanese said that his food sales versus alcohol sales ratio at both of his other locations fell within the parameters required for the license he was requesting in Trussville.
During the somewhat tense discussion, Plant said that should there be an issue that required police interaction, it could put Trussville officers and possibly patrons in danger. Catanese explained that typically, during peak hours of the week, he hired off duty officers to work security at the establishment to make sure order was maintained.
“I’m just concerned that we are not calling it what it is,” said Taylor. “I mean, the Waffle House stays open all night, but they don’t sell alcohol. To me, a place that sells alcohol until five o’clock in the morning is a bar. I don’t know what else to call it. I mean, I’m all for a restaurant, but it is what it is.”
Mayor Gene Melton finally chimed into the discussion, seemingly to give Catanese a warning.
“The license is a privilege, not a right,” Melton said. “So if you can’t control cutting people off, or if you have the police coming up there having to haul people to jail because they are drunk and disorderly, that is enough cause in itself for us to rescind or deny your application. Your challenge, if you want to stay open until 5 a.m. is to make sure you don’t exceed your food percentage, and that we don’t have calls and have to come up there and drag drunks out of there that you all have overserved. As long as you understand that and the council knows that, if we get in that predicament, we are going to come back and pull those licenses.”
Finally, after a 30 minute discussion, Councilman Plant requested a roll call vote, where the measure narrowly passed 3-2 in favor, with both Plant and Taylor being the dissenting votes.