City of Philadelphia Restaurant Licensing Bill may have serious repercussions

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

Philly!!! Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater!!

There is a bill under consideration in the Philadelphia City Council that is coming up for a vote this Thursday, December 14 that sounds good on the face of it, but can turn out to do more harm than good, if not handled well.

It's called the City of Philadelphia Restaurant Licensing Bill, while it may be aiming to eradicate those stores that are a guise for sellng liquor shots and other alcoholic beverages, while simultaneously selling candy to children - exposing them to some unsavory characters in the community;  it may also be vicarously harmng those small restaurants that have less than the stated 30 patrons, but also do business in the communty. What happens if you have 10 patrons??or 15 patrons?? 

Or, what if,  as with many Asian and Caribbean businesses, you are primarily a take out business??   We all know that the use of plastic glass barriers came about during an era when these small mom and pop establshments were preyed upon by robbers – they had to construct a way that they could provide servces to their clients, and maintain their own safety as well.

Will this bill also get rid of street vendors who sell from food trucks? Will it affect carry out restaurants and set it up so that only sit down restaurants are allowed to serve food in certain areas??

The liquor licensing issue is of major concern in situations where the lines are blurred between what is and is not appropriate in our communties – and I daresay that there are many who have crossed the line big time – but again, let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.

To say that if you don't have 30 tables in your establishment means you are not a bonafide restaurant, and you should get out of the business and do something else, is disingenuous to those food establshments, such as Chinese, Caribbean, and East Indian restaurants who serve wonderful dishes, but have perhaps only walk up windows, or fewer than 10 tables. They are still good for the communties they servce. I think they have their place, as do good quality sit down restaurants and deserve to have a liquor license f they s choose and can afford it.  

And while I agree that there is a paucity of good restaurants in certain areas - specifically North Philadelphia's District 8, as well as parts of Germantown, I don't think it fair to insist that only sit down "quality" restaurants be allowed to do business. These businesses definitely serve a useful purpose - for those of us on the move, who are not looking to sit, sip and eat - these are great alternatives to the fast food restaurants. Additionally, many of them are small, and run by various ethnc groups - and serve foods reflective of their culture and the community and adds flavor and texture to our communities.

I also see there is a dire need for upscale and moderate restaurants in our communities, and am also committed to creating and maintaining the best neighborhoods for all of us - but that truly means ALL OF US.

So my question is: WHY CAN'T WE HAVE BOTH???

Additionally, who will be building, owning and operating these restaurants?? Is there funding involved to ensure that African American business owners and restauranteurs are appropriately and proportionately represented in the development and establishment of those new restaurants?

Hopefully these smaller venues ae not being lumped in with the “pop up” venues.

Additionally, has there been additional research to determine that the community is looking for and will patronize upscale good quality restaurants? If not, what happens to them when they open and there are not sufficient customers to maintain the business successfully?

This well intentioned bill really deserves some additional consideration before being pushed through.

I was at City Hall on December 4, 2017 when thousands of Asian business people were protesting outside City Hall because they were told they had to remove their bullet proof glass from their windows. I was totally puzzled at why this was being made a requirement? Still have not had a logical answer as of yet. Saying that they are a barrier in case someone has a choking hazzard is not sufficient – they are primarly take out – but the owner needs to protect him or herself from the violent elements that still exist in our city

While Philadelphia wrangles with decisions about the future of her city going forward, she needs to take a good hard look at the impact it will have on those who are working hard, providing services, and have been the backbone of some of the mom and pop businesses here for decades - and at this juncture, I'm not just talking about our Asian brothers and sisters, but across the board.

And for those restaurants that need to come up to standards, perhaps what is needed now are programs that teach them how to update, and design their shops so that they have better curb appeal - and yes, maybe put a seat or two in there for those who just might want to eat in.

The so-called: City of Philadelphia Restaurant Licensing Bill purports to help "eliminate nuisance stop-n-go establishments and create real, sit-down restaurants in our communities." The bill will be voted on during the next City Council session on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

It would be a good idea if you and your neighbors would come to the season on Wednesday December 14 - it starts at 8:00AM, and voice you concern about making sure it is not also  eradicating the small mom and pop food places, many of which are also good, safe businesses in our neighborhoods.

We have to be careful - I personally have nothing against upgrading our communities and making them bright, wonderful, positive prosperous places to live; but beware of "gentrification" disguised as improvement. Gentrification, when we do it ourselves, can be beautiful, and can bring neighborhoods together; as long as we make sure that we are not pushing our own in the process.

There is definitely a better way to raise the standards, while we move forward to upgrade our neighborhoods.

Stay Blessed &

This article appeared in Philadelpha City Council;  of course, my commentary is either highlighted in Yellow or red.  

December 4, 2017
Philadelphia – December 4, 2017 – City Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services approved an amendment to Bill No. 170963, which creates new licensing requirements regarding restaurant establishments, and passed the bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation on Monday. The bill was introduced by Councilwoman Cindy Bass (8th District) on November 2 and will be heard on first reading at the Council stated meeting on Thursday.

The stop-n-go business model, which allows beer and liquor to be sold to adults alongside candy and soda for children, with little to no food sales, can no longer exist in Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who chairs the Committee. “I’m excited that we are moving this important conversation on quality of life and acceptable business practices in Philadelphia forward. This represents a step in the right direction and demonstrates what we can accomplish when government, community and business work together.”
The bill seeks to help business owners come into compliance with state law by categorizing business licenses as “small establishment” licenses and “large establishment” licenses. Large establishments are intended to be sit-down restaurants and are defined as businesses with tables and seating for at least 30 patrons where food is expected to be consumed on the premises. Under the provisions of the bill, large establishments are required to have a minimum of one bathroom that is publicly accessible without passing through a food preparation area. New small establishments must also have an available restroom facility as required by the Plumbing Code, while already-existing small establishments are not affected by this provision.
As amended, the bill also provides that the Department of Licenses and Inspections will work to determine and announce regulations on the use or removal of any physical barrier between restaurant employees serving food and restaurant customers by January 1, 2021.

As a sit-down restaurant staff should be available to meet the needs of dining room guests—for example, to assist if a patron is choking or having an allergic reaction,” Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley testified during the hearing Monday. “The proposed bill will also align the City laws with the state liquor code, which requires 30 seats for a food service establishment to be eligible for a liquor license,” Farley said. 

 (So a boutique restaurant, that has a smaller footprint, but is no less elegant and upscale, cannot get a liquor license if it has less than 30 seats, and if it does not have the funds or budget to sustain such a large scale operation – it's just SOL/SMH?) Will the City be providing financial assistance for Black owned businesses that wish to open restaurants in the Philadelphia area and seek a liquor license for their clientele, or will they have to take it elsewhere?

I will reiterate that this bill is an important step to ensure that the City’s restaurants provide appropriate facilities for customers and serve as an asset and not a nuisance to our communities,” said Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner David Perri on Monday. “The best way the city can achieve this is to make minimal changes to our food license categories to accurately identify food establishments by their size, seating capacity, and facilities, so that we know who is operating as a sit-down restaurant and who is operating more as a take-out or convenience store where food is not necessarily consumed on premises.”

If a business owns a restaurant liquor license, it should operate as a restaurant and comply with the rules set forth by the state and the city,” Andrew Trackman, executive director of the Germantown United CDC, testified Monday. “If they don’t, they need to comply with the rules by operating as a sit-down restaurant, or sell their license and get into another business.”??????

Councilwoman Bass and all other city councilpersons who have been consistent in trying to make wayward stop-n-go owners do better–we applaud you,” said Thera Martin, testifying Monday on behalf of the Allegheny West Foundation and the North 22nd Street Business Association. “We appreciate all the work you have done to bring attention to this chronic and long-standing major concern in our neighborhoods.”

Said Cornelia Swinson, executive director of Johnson House Historic Site and board secretary for the Germantown Special Services District, “Councilwoman Bass represents the kind of leadership that we need right now. This bill may help usher Philadelphia towards its next level of socially conscious civic engagement. I want to express my deep appreciation for the ‘vision’ embodied in her proposed bill that seeks to begin to break down stereotypes about marginalized communities and their value.”

This is not about plexiglass,” said Bass. “This is about what community members want, what community members demand and what community members deserve. We want sit-down restaurants in our neighborhoods that value our business and serve food with dignity and respect.

I want to thank lawmakers in Harrisburg, Commissioner David Perri of the Department of Licenses and Inspections, Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley, community members from the 8th District and around the City of Philadelphia, and my Council colleagues for their work on helping improve quality of life in all our city’s neighborhoods,” Bass said. “Through this legislation, I believe we can create a healthy and successful business model that functions with dignity and thrives in our communities.”

# # #
Councilwoman Cindy Bass represents the 8th Council District, which includes Germantown, Mt. Airy, Nicetown, Tioga, Chestnut Hill, portions of Logan, and West Oak Lane. She is Chair of Council’s committees on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs and Public Health and Human Services.

As stated earlier, it is hoped that Philadelphia will not "Throw out the baby with the bath water," in their urge to purge the city of the scourge of pop up stores.  Maybe limit the number per community, and make them adult only, no children under 18 allowed, and not within x feet of a school, would be a better course of action.  

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