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How much does a liquor license matter? Ask Fountain Bistro boss


This article appeared in Crain's Detroit Business
Nathan Skid -- Aug. 25, 2011

Business has tripled at Fountain Bistro since Jay Lambrecht transformed the Campus Martius café from a lunch spot serving wraps and sandwiches into a full-service restaurant with menu items like crab cakes, warm goat cheese salad and mushroom ragout.

But the biggest addition to the restaurant was a full Class C liquor license.

This isn’t an ordinary liquor license — it can extend throughout the whole park, which has given Lambrecht the ability to host corporate functions and even weddings.

Liquor licenses can be vital to a restaurant’s success, which is why they easily sell for over $100,000 in areas like Birmingham and Royal Oak and are difficult to obtain.

So it would seem a liquor license covering all of Campus Martius Park would have an astronomical price tag, right? Wrong.

Lambrecht said he paid just $1,500 in licensing fees. 

“This liquor license was one of the state’s quota licenses,” he said. “Normally, if you want a liquor license you have to buy it from someone who already had it and it’s really expensive. But the state released 15 free ones, and this was one of those.”

Lambrecht said the ability to serve alcoholic beverages changed the dynamic of the restaurant.

“When you are just a lunch spot, that’s all you’ll ever be,” he said. “Before we got the liquor license, we would be lucky to get five tables — literally five tables — at night. Now you can come here at 10:30 at night and see people having a drink and watching the fountain.”

Lambrecht said the move downtown by Quicken Loans Inc. and the influx of young professionals it brought to Campus Martius has changed the feel of the area.

“All the new people downtown are really bringing excitement downtown,” he said. “There is a different energy here right now, and I am happy to be in the center of it.”

All images and content courtesy Crain's Detroit Business.
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