SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 19, 2014

Eatery a go, despite liquor-license reservations

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Those hoping to create The Berry Tavern eatery in a long-vacant space at 2 High St. in Danvers Square got the OK from selectmen last night, but not without some reservations about how the liquor license fell into the applicant’s hands.

By a vote of 4-0, with Selectman Gardner Trask abstaining, selectmen approved the application of 2 High Street Tavern Inc. to transfer the license from Steven Tedesco, who never opened a sports bar on Route 1 at 100 Newbury St, as he had intended.

During the public hearing, selectmen liked that the operators of restaurants in the North End of Boston, Al Dente Ristorante and Benevento’s, wanted to open a 2,400-square-foot, 78-seat restaurant in Danvers Square.

They liked that it would create 25 to 30 jobs. They did not seem to mind that parking might be hard to find. They allowed the restaurant to open at 11 a.m., 10 a.m. on Sundays, and close at 1 a.m.

However, they disapproved of how the liquor license came into the applicant’s hands.

“I believe this is a pocket license being sold for a profit,” insisted Trask, who said he had no problem with the applicant, who was represented by Danvers resident George Tsatsis, the new tavern’s manager; Joseph Bono, the president of the company; and Danvers attorney Nancy McCann.

Trask asked to speak with Tedesco’s attorney, Paul Crochiere. Under questioning from Trask, Crochiere said Tedesco paid $40,000 to the license’s previous holder, a former Japanese steakhouse on Route 1. Crochiere said the license fetched $120,000 from the applicants, but it had cost Tedesco a lot of money trying to develop a restaurant.

“He invested about $90,000 between engineering, legal and other expenses, including fees to the town,” Crochiere said.

Trask wasn’t buying it.

“This is a license that has gone unused for several years,” Trask said, at Tedesco’s discretion. “My strong statements and arguments are toward the seller,” he told the applicants. “I am at a quandary.” Trask said he did not plan to vote on the license transfer unless there was a tie.

Selectman Dan Bennett said he favored the transfer, but he also had concerns about the seller.

Selectman David Mills, an attorney who used to practice liquor-license law and a former state Appeals Court judge, said he did not believe that it cost $90,000 in legal fees and engineering to try to get a restaurant up and running.

“I will support the transfer with reservations,” Mills said. He said the board should be more careful in the future as to who gets a license.

“I am actually happy to see the license move forward,” Selectman Diane Langlais said.

The applicants ran into some resistance of their own. A proposal for a small, 16-seat outdoor patio was not allowed because it was not part of the application. Selectmen said the applicants could come back at a later date to amend their plans. They approved an entertainment license but asked that music be kept indoors and not piped outside.

Bono said he was in negotiations with People’s United Bank for some parking out back.

In September, selectmen gave Tedesco a six-month extension to transfer the license to a national chain restaurant called Bonefish Grill, which reportedly had wanted to locate on Route 114. Those plans apparently fell through, with one of the sticking points of that development being parking.

Tedesco, a businessman who owns a commercial building at 100 Newbury St., appealed to the board last fall for more time, blunting concerns that it appeared he had pocketed the license only to flip it to another buyer. He said he intended to develop the restaurant in a commercial building that also contains his marble and granite business.

At the previous hearing, Crochiere tried to dispel any notion that this was a speculation scheme. Tedesco obtained the license from selectmen in June 2012, then faced multiple delays in getting approval from the state Alcoholic Control Beverages Commission.

The delay meant increases in estimates for renovations, and plans to double the size of the restaurant also caused delays. A liquor-license broker had approached Tedesco early last year, and Tedesco agreed to sell the license.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.