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Local legislators help Kirkland catering business, gets bill passed to law in bipartisan effort
In the past, John Bagge, president of Twelve Baskets Catering in Kirkland, has lost a $40,000 catering event for a local software company because his business couldn’t serve alcohol.
“It’s happened several times,” Bagge said, who unsuccessfully applied for a liquor license in October. “We’ve lost several hundred thousand [dollars] in sales.”
Bagge’s business isn’t a bust, in fact, it’s had $2 million in sales and is highly insured, he said. But because his catering business doesn’t operate a restaurant, tavern, bar or tiny “fake” cafe, the Washington State Liquor Control Board isn’t authorized to issue the business a liquor license.
Bagge’s business, which has been operating for 38 years, used to be a restaurant where they did have a liquor license. But he got out of the restaurant business 15 years ago and has no wishes of going back.
He currently operates Twelve Baskets Catering in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse-type kitchen, which isn’t conducive to open a cafe or restaurant, he said.
“[Many caterers] will have a kitchen set up, a little dining area, to appease the Liquor Control Board,” he said. “Once they get the cafe set up it’s pretty much done, so they can obtain a license. But once [the Liquor Control Board] issues the license, they wouldn’t check up on it.”
Catering companies without those features can cater events, such as a wedding, and they can serve alcohol if they had the appropriate licensed professionals, but they couldn’t sell alcohol to guests. The wedding party would often have to buy the alcohol from another business.
Frustrated, Bagge sought out officials with the Liquor Control Board for some answers.
“They said they’d like to give a license for a caterer but it wasn’t available,” Bagge said. “They can’t issue a license they don’t have.”
It was then Bagge decided to write to his legislators, Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) of the 45th Legislative District.
“Within a week I got an email back from Mr. Springer saying he wanted to listen to what I had to say,” Bagge said.
Soon, Bagge found himself giving Springer a tour of the warehouse and explaining the dilemma sometime in December.
“It’s hurting our business and it’s hurting small caterers,” he said. “It seems like it’s discriminatory.”
A few weeks later, Bagge contacted Springer’s office for an update and discovered Springer had been working on drafting House Bill 2680.
“It was a rule by the Liquor Control Board I was unaware of,” Springer said. “I said ‘I think we can fix that,’ but I wasn’t sure we could do it this session. But everything fell into place.”
Springer said the bill swiftly passed in the House Rules Committee, it overwhelmingly passed on the House floor and was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“Nothing ever passes in Olympia that doesn’t get through the House and the Senate,” Springer said. “Near the end of the session, we had to get the bill onto the floor for a Senate vote as well, so I called Sen. Hill and asked for help.”
Hill said it’s often tough getting a bill passed once it’s in the opposite chamber and that Larry asked him to “shepherd” it.
“You look at it and the question is why don’t we do this already,” Hill said. “It’s clearly going to help businesses, but it’s also better service for the customers. It’s one of those common sense laws.”
The Senate also passed the bill with a majority and it was delivered to the Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk by March 10 and was officially signed into law March 17.
“It was all because of the letter I had written to these guys,” Bagge said, while he was on his way to watch the governor sign the bill into law. “It’s kind of a shock because usually when you write a letter to a politician they understand but you don’t hear back.”
Bagge said it was his first time writing to his legislators.
The law goes into effect 90 days from March 18, and Bagge said he’s definitely going to be applying for the liquor license as soon as he can, which will cost $1,000 for the ability to sell beer, wine and spirits; $200 for beer or wine alone, and $400 for just beer and wine.
“From the sense of fairness, it was obvious to me that there was no particular reason why a caterer couldn’t sell beer and wine like a restaurant,” Springer said. “But the ironic part of this is prior to this law going into effect, it was an advantage to guys like me.”
Springer and his wife Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet own Grape Choice, a wine shop in Kirkland. And often, his business would get sales for events that caterers couldn’t provide alcohol with, he said.
“It might take away business from him, but the right thing to do is to have licenses for caterers,” Bagge said of Springer. “He’s the hero for all caterers across the state right now.”