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Battle brewing over beer

By BARB BROUWER
March 27, 2012 · Updated 1:32 PM
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Shaking his head: Barley Station Brew Pub owner Stu Bradford is still seeking a permit to sell beer from his microbrewery at the Wicked Spoon, his soon-to-be-opening, family-oriented restaurant at the former East Side Mario’s location. / James Murray/Observer

Opening a new restaurant has brewed complications for a local couple.

Owners of the popular Barley Station Brew Pub, Stu and Kathy Bradford are opening Wicked Spoon, a family oriented restaurant two blocks away at the site of the former Eastside Mario’s.

The menu will be diverse and the restaurant will have a liquor licence.

Trouble is, the Bradfords will not be permitted to serve – or promote in any way – the beer that is made in the Barley Station’s microbrewery.

Under current B.C. legislation, the two businesses are considered to be under “tied-house” regulations – regulations a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Resources says are under review.

“Initially I was prohibited from opening a restaurant because I have an interest in a brewery,” says Stu who, following a letter to Shuswap MLA George Abbott, received a “discretionary decision” from the province that allows him to open a new eatery. “But I still can’t sell my own product. I can sell my product to everyone else in town but can’t sell my own product to me. How’s that for stifling business in B.C.?”

The tied-house rule goes back to 1940s or ’50s, and was designed to prevent large Canadian breweries from getting control over what beer is sold in pubs, says Stu.

“Our microbrewery is so small it won’t have an impact on anybody,” he says. “I suggested a way around it would be to make an amendment (to the regulations) to allow small brew pubs who open another restaurant in another location to sell to ourselves.”

He believes that would be a quick fix – a particularly timely one considering the growing number of craft breweries and brew pubs in the province.

“You can’t stop them from doing business,” he says. “I don’t know one other business where the government says you can open another store but you can’t sell your product. Where does that come from?’

Stu notes that he employs some 20 to 25 employees at the Barley Station throughout the year with as many as 30 in the busy summer season.

And the Wicked Spoon will add another 20 to 25 jobs to the local economy.

“I think government is looking at it; I had a good response from Abbott’s office,” he says. “I just hope the rules will get changed. We knew that going in so I am not whining, but it’s something that needs to be changed.”

An email from Energy, Mines and Resources, the ministry that now regulates liquor regulations in the province indicates the matter is under consideration.

“The province is currently reviewing possible changes to regulations regarding how liquor manufacturers can promote their products in licensed establishments and has met with industry associations to seek their views,” says the March 23 email. “Results of the consultations have been mixed and the province is continuing to review the matter.”

Meanwhile, Stu says he is hoping to open the Wicked Spoon in mid-April and that Kathy has been working on creating a menu that brings the same concept of fresh, made-in-house food as the Barley Station.

There will be a special children’s menu and the decor has been changed to create a bright, fresh modern look.

There will be a breakfast cafe and a lounge area where youngsters can go in as long as they’re accompanied by an adult.

The Wicked Spoon will be open seven days a week and hours of operation will be announced closer to opening.