Updated Tue, Mar 11, 2014 5:39 pm
Athens City Council will introduce an ordinance next week to request a public hearing from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control regarding a proposed liquor license transfer to Fluff Bakery and Catering on Court Street.
Last week, some Council members expressed concern regarding the transfer of the license, which formerly belonged to West Side Tavern, and stated they’d like to request a hearing. On Monday, the couple that runs Fluff Bakery — Jessica and Jason Kopelwitz — attended the Athens City Council meeting to discuss their plans for their business and field any questions members may have had.
Councilwoman Chris Fahl said that the request for a state hearing regarding the license actually came from concerned city residents.
City Council does not have the authority to approve or deny the transfer request, but does have the ability to request a public hearing at the state level. Fahl said she would request that the hearing be held in Athens instead of Columbus.
Councilman Steve Patterson pointed out that during his two years on Council, the legislative body has never requested a hearing on any other liquor permit application.
“The law does give us the authority to request a hearing from the state,” said Councilman Jeff Risner. “I’m of the opinion that because we are elected officials if we have any entity within the city … who has an issue and wants to discuss it, there’s certainly nothing wrong with discussing it in a formal hearing. I think, given that, that we should request a hearing. … The odds of it not being approved are pretty low.”
Councilwoman Chris Knisely said there was concern expressed in writing by the Ohio University Coalition Advocating Responsible Drinking Decisions, a group she said she has worked with over the years.
“Their point is the transfer of this license would increase the availability of alcohol in a highly populated area on Court Street,” Knisely said.
After Council members expressed their opinions on the matter, Jason Kopelwitz approached Council to say that he and his wife were shocked to find out last week that a hearing would be requested and about the rumors that were floating around that the bakery would be turned into a bar.
If approved, the permit would allow Fluff to serve wine, beer and liquor until 2:30 a.m. Jason previously told The Athens Messenger that the business has no intention of remaining open that late.
“I’ve had multiple customers come in and say, ‘You’re shutting Fluff down and turning it into a bar?’ I have no idea where that’s coming from. We have no intention of doing that,” he said. “We have no interest in a bar. We’ve worked way too hard to produce a very community-minded business and it’s a little bit insulting to not be able to talk that through with people who may or may not have a problem.”
Jessica Kopelwitz added, “My husband I pretty much sold everything that we have in order to do what we do and we’re honored to have what we have.”
She said she went to school at OU and knows what the uptown drinking scene is like.
“I don’t want to own that,” she said. “What we want to do is have a full-service restaurant. … This really allows us to update our menu, be able to offer more of a mix at Fluff. We already do some date night things, but it would be nice for people to be able to come in and have dessert and a glass of wine or a cocktail.”
She also clarified that she is the sole owner of Fluff and that she makes all decisions regarding what happens at the business. She said that the liquor permit would be owned by JJ and J on Court LLC, of which she has a 50 percent managing interest. The other name listed on the permit transfer application is Jeremy Valeda.
“There’s no ownership interest in my business. I make the decisions, nobody else,” Jessica Kopelwitz stated.
She also said that it is in her lease that she cannot own a bar and that alcohol can’t be above a certain percentage of Fluff’s total sales.
“All that’s built into what we already do. We’re not hiding anything,” she added.
Jason Kopelwitz said that by requesting a public hearing, the business will have to fork out $2,000-$3,000 that could have gone to pay employees or be given to local charities.
“I understand hearings can cost money and they can cost time,” Fahl said. “We have to represent everybody and there have been a number of people who have voiced concern about this and I think that a hearing would be a logical way of dealing with it because there is so much misunderstanding and such.”
Jason Kopelwitz added that if Mayor Paul Wiehl would be willing to approve a TREX license for the business, Fluff would be willing to forgo the license transfer. A TREX license is an economic development transfer license that could be transferred from another community if deemed an economic development tool by the mayor.
Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl stated that there are pros and cons to the possibility of Fluff selling alcohol. Wiehl said that he has approved three TREX licenses for restaurants in the past: Restaurant Salaam, Zoe Fine Dining and The Over Hang. Each community has a quota of liquor licenses allowed by the state, which is based on population. However, a TREX license is outside of the quota system, Wiehl explained.
Wiehl said he’s always hesitant to grant a TREX license, but asked Council members to let him know if they have any objections to the possibility.