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Virginia moves closer to dropping food-to-alcohol sales ratio for many restaurants

The owner of The Tobacco Company restaurant in Richmond testified against removing the state's alcohol-to-food sales ratio.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
The owner of The Tobacco Company restaurant in Richmond testified against removing the state's alcohol-to-food sales ratio.

It’s long been a law in Virginia that establishments that sell alcohol must sell nearly half their earnings in food. But Tuesday afternoon an effort to remove that requirement was endorsed in a House of Delegates subcommittee, a massive step in a fight that’s been decades in the making.

“I haven’t told anybody this, my dad used to run a restaurant and I remember them struggling and I remember how every time they opened a business red tape was an impediment to them being successful," Fredericksburg-area Senator Bryce Reeves told Radio IQ. "And if I can take a little bit of that red tape away?”

Reeves was celebrating after his bill to remove the alcohol to food ratio passed out of a House subcommittee. He'd been advocating to change the law for over a decade, and Tuesday's vote was bipartisan and nearly unanimous, similar to the effort’s unanimous success in the Senate.

Currently, Virginia says restaurants can’t earn more than 45% of their revenue from alcohol sales in order to keep their liquor license. It’s a concept that restaurant owners say keeps the state’s “bars” in cleaner, better shape. Among supporters of the rule is Jerry Cable, owner of Richmond’s Tobacco Company restaurant for nearly 50 years. He said the Virginia ABC was already slacking on enforcing the ratio and removing it would only encourage bad actors.

“I can assure you that the bars that are operating cause tremendous problems in the neighborhood,” he said, suggesting existing rule breakers are already causing an increase in insurance rates among other issues.

But the success of Reeves' bill could be linked to some of the legislature’s newer members. Among them is Alexandria-area Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

“We haven’t changed this ratio since 1980, a lot has changed since then," Bennett-Parker. said. "There’s a lot of premium spirits that restaurants want to sell without having their license revoked and facing stiff financial penalties.”

Bennett-Parker voted in favor of the bill, The next stop for Reeves’ bill is a full House committee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.