By Jonathan Phelps
---- — IPSWICH — It was Mamma Louisa Cucina and Bar vs. Bunz Burger.
Both restaurants were in the running last night to receive the town’s only available beer and wine license. After hearing from both business owners during a public hearing, selectmen voted to grant it to Mamma Louisa on Central Street. A number of factors were taken into consideration, including its downtown location and number of seats.
Several selectmen said it was a difficult decision because Frank Pellino, owner of Mamma Louisa, has been looking for a year-round license for more than a year, and Mark Macklin, the former owner of Stone Soup, is in the process of opening a new burger joint at 20 Mitchell Road. The board must consider the applications “with a view only to serve the public need,” according to Massachusetts law.
Selectmen Bill Craft, Nishan Mootafian and Pat McNally voted in favor of Mamma Louisa, with Selectman Charlie Surpitski voting for Bunz Burger. Selectman Shirley Berry abstained from voting.
“This is a very difficult situation,” Berry said. “I think it is unfair we don’t have enough, because we want to support the restaurant businesses.”
The board recommended that Macklin apply for a seasonal license or work with the town to pursue a petition from the state moving forward. Earlier in the evening, the board approved a common victualler license for Bunz Burger, which paves the way for it to open.
Mamma Louisa, which opened last May, was previously selling liquor under a seasonal license, which allows businesses to sell between April 1 and Jan. 15. He said last Saturday around 40 customers left after finding out the restaurant currently can’t serve alcohol.
“A year-round license is important so we can keep customers and be competitive,” Pellino said of his 65-seat full-service Italian restaurant. “I would prefer a full liquor license year round, so I will keep my name in for that.”
Macklin is opening Bunz Burger with his daughter, Hannah. It will have 14 seats and be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We really wanted a license to generate profit, because we are so small,” he said.
He previously held a full liquor license in town for more than 20 years with Stone Soup, which opened at the same Mitchell Road location in 1993 before later moving to the corner of Central and Market streets. In 2009, the restaurant moved into the building formerly occupied by Marco Polo restaurant on High Street until it closed in August.
“We just thought it would be a nice addition for people coming in to have a burger if they could have a cold beer with it,” Macklin said. There would be no bar, and all alcohol would be served in cans or bottles, he said.
“Right now, it is just the burger concept,” he said, noting that there would be side dishes and salads.
Berry suggested that the town apply for a home rule petition to the state legislature for more liquor licenses, either all-alcohol or beer and wine. She asked Pellino if he would consider waiting for such a petition in order to get an all-alcohol license, but his lawyer said it wasn’t a good idea.
“They go for one or two years before they are finally approved, if they are approved,” said James Cody, Pellino’s lawyer. “I don’t think he has the luxury of a year or two to stay in business with no guarantees.”
While Pellino said he would prefer an all-alcohol license, he said it’s important he has a year-round license to maintain his business. He said 80 to 85 percent of his customers order wine with their meals.
“My restaurant calls for it,” Pellino said. “A customer will not walk out because he can’t have vodka or scotch; they’ll have a glass of wine or beer. You can’t have nothing.”
Pellino opened Mamma Luisa Cucina and Bar in the former spot of Rossini’s in May. The Danvers native opened his first restaurant, Pellino’s Fine Italian Dining, in Marblehead in 1992 and moved it to the North End in 2012. He operates both the Ipswich and Boston restaurants.
The license in town recently became available after the town and state reconciled records regarding available liquor licenses in town, according to Jennifer Breaker, the town manager’s assistant. State records showed that one of the town’s wine and malt licenses was tied up by Cafe Zabaglione, which had switched its license to all-alcohol a number of years ago, Breaker said.
Pellino said the beer and wine license should have been available when he first opened, and this likely wouldn’t have been an issue.
Craft supported Mamma Louisa during the discussion at the hearing.
“For a variety of reasons, I am inclined in the direction of downtown,” Craft said. “I think to keep our licenses concentrated there is a good thing.”
Pellino’s license must still be approved by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, but he hopes to have it in a couple of weeks.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.