Regulated Industries threatens to cork Ça Va and Julep

When you’re in a Paris bistro and someone asks you, “Comment ça va?,” you nod your head or turn up an affirmative thumb. You’re in Paris, after all, so the answer to the question “How’s it going?” is probably a positive one.

When you’re running the Westport bistro called Ça Va and someone inquires after your mood, you might have to shake your head instead.

The two-year-old champagne bar and brunch beacon at 4149 Pennsylvania is in a staredown with Kansas City, Missouri’s Regulated Industries department, which has so far refused to renew the venue’s liquor license.

“Regulated Industries is just doing its job,” says Ça Va partner Howard Hanna, who wouldn’t comment much beyond that.

That job is to enforce state and municipal liquor laws — including the requirement that “restaurant/bar” license holders generate a minimum of 50 percent of their gross income from the sale of food, or else sell more than $200,000 worth of food a year.

That’s a lot of croque madam.

And the agency has indicated that there’s no reclassifying Ça Va as a tavern rather than a liquor-by-the-drink restaurant. Sounding a stern note, division manager Jim Ready last week told The Kansas City Star that Westport is already “way over density” for tavern-only licenses. “If they don’t meet their food sales,” he said of Ça Va, “they are out of business.”

Hanna, also the chef-owner of downtown’s Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, says he has hired attorneys to “work things out” with the agency. “We’re very optimistic that we’ll continue to stay open,” he tells me.

The nearby Julep, which is more than twice the size of Ça Va, is also under threat from Regulated Industries. Co-owner Beau Williams says Julep is “very close” to meeting its food-to-liquor ratio.

“We have until end of month to hit our numbers,” he says. “We’re anticipating that to happen, but it’s still nerve-racking. None of us have a crystal ball here. We’re all under a lot of stress. These are state requirements being enforced by the city. Julep and Ça Va are small enough where these laws can feel like an albatross to us, where bigger venues can shrug them off.”

READ: At Julep, Brent Gunnels reveals himself as a burgeoning chef

Williams adds: “Julep has turned a profit every month since we opened, but it’s scary to think that it could all come screeching to a halt. We’ve taken food seriously from the beginning, just like Ça Va. We invested in a kitchen and hired a kitchen staff. We sell a lot of food.”

Enough food to satisfy Regulated Industries, though? Attendre et voir: Wait and see.

Categories: Food & Drink