But for more than two years, Wolfson and others have been fighting what he calls an unfair battle with the Cobb County Business License Review Board to obtain an alcohol license at the new location because of its proximity to a daycare facility — a battle he said many others have won handily over the past few years. A final decision is scheduled for March 28.
Wolfson said that although alcohol only represents 11 percent of the Marietta Square location’s total sales, the alcohol portion “pays the rent” and is vital to keeping a pizza restaurant flourishing and affordable.
“We’re in the food business, not in the alcohol business. But people want to enjoy a glass of beer or wine with their pizza, and I have yet to find a successful dine-in pizza restaurant that does not serve alcohol. We’ve never had an alcohol violation in 10 years. We don’t fool around,” Wolfson said. “And there are several other locations, like the West Cobb Diner, who have been what is considered by the county to be too close to a daycare but were still granted an alcohol permit. And we have a ton of public support, so at this time, I’m having a hard time comprehending why we’re getting turned down.”
It all began in November 2008, when Wolfson said he signed a contract to lease the new retail development in west Cobb near Shane’s Rib Sack and CVS Pharmacy. Wolfson said he had been in talks with the property owner prior to its development and expressed strong interest in moving there, so the owner built the property with Marietta Pizza Company in mind. The property sits at 9,000 square feet of open space with a large patio, and Wolfson said the business plans to take up 4,000 square feet of the property and the rest can be used for other retail businesses.
At that time, Wolfson said the lease agreement was contingent upon receiving an alcohol permit. The property owner was asking for such a high rent payment, so Wolfson said he asked for a beer, wine and liquor license to make enough money to offset the high rent. Prior to the meeting before the review board, Wolfson said he had a feeling the board would only approve a beer and wine permit, so he asked the property owner prior to the meeting if he would lower the rent should the board recommend a beer and wine only permit. But Wolfson said the owner would not budge. Sure enough, the board asked if he would be willing to lessen his permit, Wolfson said no, and the permit was denied.
Wolfson said county officials told him his permit was denied because it was too close to a daycare center that also offered Pre-K – which made it a school, in the eyes of state law. The west Cobb retail center is slightly more than 300 feet to the east of Discovery Point Daycare. Wolfson said that complies with state guidelines – that a business with an alcohol permit cannot be less than 300 feet away from a school – but does not fall within current county requirements of 600 feet from a school.
Cobb Community Development Agency Director Rob Hosack said county staff automatically has to deny an alcohol permit and send it to the review board if it is within 600 feet of a school, but the board then has the ability to grant variances and allow permits to be approved as they see fit.
Two weeks after the November 2008 hearing, the county changed its code to include daycare facilities with Pre-K in the category of school, Wolfson said, though Hosack said the county has had the distance requirements for several years.
From that point, Wolfson said the building sat for two years. He and the Contrerases still have not yet recovered nearly $9,000 of the $12,000 deposit the business put down on the lease. Eventually, the property went into foreclosure and the new owner, Eddie Quarles, began talking with Wolfson again. They agreed to a lease with a lower rent in January, contingent on a beer and wine permit.
Wolfson said the property is ideal for Marietta Pizza Company not only because of its size and beauty, but also because it is located in a neighborhood center rather a commercial center, where nearby residents can frequent the business. Wolfson credits much of the success of the Marietta Square restaurant to the neighborhood factor.
On March 3, the review board heard Wolfson’s case again, but deadlocked at a vote of 2-2, so the board waited until member Judy Skeel could attend to cast a tie-breaking fifth vote. The next and final hearing is set to take place on March 28.
Other members of the review board include county parks director Eddie Canon, county finance director Jim Pehrson, Milton Beck and Larry Walker.
Wolfson said his business has a petition with 1,200 names of people in support of the west Cobb location, including business owners near the retail center. Wolfson said having his business in the center would help it to be filled by other businesses. But if their permit is denied again on March 28, Wolfson said he will likely take his business to one of the cities and deal with city officials for permitting. Officials from the city of Acworth, for example, have already reached out to him to bring their business to Acworth, Wolfson said.
“The county is giving tax breaks to companies with 14 employees, but we will create 50 jobs out there and we’re having to fight to open with a lot of support. In this economy, we would be taking a vacant building that’s basically just been sitting there for years, generating revenue for the county, and our landlord said if we go in there, his daughters will open an ice cream and candy shop on other end. So we definitely feel it would be a benefit to everyone,” Wolfson said.