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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Villages restaurant owners offer mixed feelings on alcohol-to-go measure

Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign into law an order making alcohol-to-go a permanent option for restaurants across Florida – a measure that is drawing mixed reactions among Villages eatery owners.

The Florida Legislature passed SB 148 on Alcohol-to-Go on Wednesday and the bill is now awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. Alcohol-to-go with food purchases became a reality last year when DeSantis signed an executive order at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown in The Villages in March 2020 during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to sign a measure that will allow restaurants across the Sunshine State to continue selling alcohol-to-go with meal purchases.

The legislation had been a top priority for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). The agency pointed out that alcohol-to-go was a critical lifeline for restaurants that were closed to indoor dining and struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. It also said in a statement that restaurants followed the rules closely and were able to demonstrate that the sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption could be done safely.

“Alcohol-to-go continues to be an important source of revenue for restaurants that are struggling to survive,” said FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover.

Three restaurant owners in The Villages, however, have differing views on the measure. Fred Karimipour who owns FMK Restaurant Group and seven eateries in The Villages, said he hopes to see the measure signed by the governor soon.

“It’s another avenue for a restaurant operator to make income,” said Karimipour, who owns Bluefin Grill & Bar in Brownwood, The Chop House at Lake Sumter Landing, Belle Glade Country Club, Bonifay Country Club, Evans Prairie Country Club, Orange Blossom Hills Country Club and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor on Brownwood.

Karmipour said he’d also like to see other changes put into place that also would benefit restaurant owners.

“I would love to see additional regulations removed regarding the purchasing of alcohol that the state regulates so tightly in favor of major distribution companies,” he said.

Allen Musikantow, owner/operator of the Cody’s Original Roadhouse restaurants in Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood, said the measure won’t really help him out.

“We don’t do alcohol-to-go,” he said. “We’re really not so sure where the liability starts and ends.”

Musikantow added that his restaurants also don’t count on a big to-go food business, as customers come there expecting to enjoy great food and entertainment in a fun and friendly environment.

“I’m just not excited about selling liquor to go,” he said.

Gina Buell, who along with husband Mike owns the City Fire restaurants in Lake Sumter Landing and Brownwood, said she hasn’t decided exactly how the measure will affect her eateries. She said customers purchasing to-go orders from the Lake Sumter Landing location can currently buy bottles of alcohol to go with their meals and she isn’t sure that plan will change much in the future.

“I want to read more and understand this much better before we make any kind of changes,” she said. “I’ve got to understand exactly what it means.”

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