Foodie’s Snags Final Beer/Wine License for Belmont Center Store

Photo: Victor Cruz, Jr. speaking before the Belmont Board of Selectmen.

Nearly nine months before it opens its doors to residents, the owner of the supermarket anchoring the renovated Macy’s space in Belmont Center is the holder of the town’s final beer and wine license as the Belmont Board of Selectmen awarded the permit to Foodie’s Market.

Victor Cruz, Jr., told the Belmontonian today’s customers anticipate well-run markets to stock beer and wine as a matter of course.

“Like I said to the selectmen, people have become accustomed to expecting it at their local market,” said Cruz, after the board voted unanimously to award the Boston-based independent chain the license. 

It was this “new reality” among its customers that brought Cruz to the Selectmen on Monday, July 27, seeking the final of the four beer and wine licenses Town Meeting approved and the legislature OK’d for retail establishments three years ago. 

“We feel its critical for us to have since other” markets also sell beer and wine including Star Market on Mt. Auburn Street and Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. 

Cruz said his family’s fourth operation – to be located in 15,000 sq.-ft. on the lower level of the renovated site of the Macy’s department store at 75 Leonard St. – will be located in the lower portion of the remodeled site. 

The beer and wine section will take up four percent of space near the customer service area in the back of the store, “so we can keep a close eye on the site.” 

He noted that he will sign a “no craft beer” agreement in the lease in which Foodie’s will not sell the same beverages currently being sold by Craft Beer Celler, the artisanal beer store down the block. 

“Our intent is not to hurt anyone, but rather drive business of the center of Belmont rather than away from it,” said Cruz, noting the Cellar’s owners, Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, approve of the store coming to the center. Cruz will also speak with Carolyn Kemp, co-owner of Vintages in Belmont. 

Diane Malcolmson of Pinehurst Road said it is important for town leaders and residents remember that retail owners such as Kemp “that took a chance on this town five years ago when we needed that alcohol revenue.”

“We just expect you to be a good neighbor and encourage you to speak to all the businesses” in the center, said Malcolmson.

Cheese, Olive Oil, and Now Beer and Wine at Art’s Specialities

Photo: Art’s Specialities on Trapelo Road.

In the past year-and-a-half, those seeking a beer and wine license could expect coming before the Board of Selectmen multiple times, spending a great deal of time discussing business plans and legal matters.

So it was something of a nice surprise when the owners of Art’s Specialities, the food market on Trapelo Road whose focus is cheese and olive oil, spent just under 10 minutes before the Selectmen before walking out with the coveted license.

In fact, the entire process was fairly painless. 

“We are elated,” said co-owner Jen Bonislawski, who is married to her business partner, Artur Nergaryan. “It could not have gone better than it did.” 

The Watertown couple’s store, at 369 Trapelo Rd. near the corner of Beech Street, appeared to be the prototype of what the selectmen were looking for in an applicant for the limited number of beer and wine licenses the town has to dole out.

With its open and bright retail space, the store sells a variety of specialty foods reflecting an upscale market, which its shelves filled with a wide array of cheeses, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, herbs, meats as well as loose seeds, tea and nuts. The operation also won over the board by informing them they do not, nor will sell, lottery tickets or tobacco products.  

Once the couple presented their plan to use the license to complement its food operation using less than a fifth of its space to sell selected wines and craft beer as well as overwhelming neighborhood support, the selectmen saw little reason not to issue the license.

“I’m so happy,” said Nergaryan after their presentation. “We got so much support from our customers. They took time from their work and they said such good things about our store.” 

Trapelo Road Cheese Shop Seeking Beer/Wine License

Photo: Co-owners Jen Bonislawski and Artur Nergaryan of Art’s Specialities on Trapelo Road.

Artur Nergaryan said his customers – from first-timers to his regulars – keep asking him the same question.

“People will go around and pick up a salami, some cheese and bread and then ask, ‘Where’s your wine?'” said Nergaryan, the co-owner with his wife, Jen Bonislawski, of Art’s Specialities at 369 Trapelo Rd.

That consumer demand has prompted the couple come before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 22, seeking a license to sell beer and wine from their new speciality food store, located across the street from the Studio Cinema near the corner of Beech Street.

But the application does not mean the couple is seeking to change the tenor of the store’s character or focus.

“[Beer and wine] is not our main business; it will be complementary to what we are already selling,” said Bonislawski. The couple hopes to carve out a small section of the store near the checkout counter to sell a select number of moderately-priced wines and popular craft beers.

“It will provide that extra something that [customers] said they want,” said Nergaryan.

The Watertown couple opened the speciality store three months ago in the former location of Diver’s Jim. The 1,700 sq.-ft. store front sells an large array of regional cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegars, herbs, charcuteries (prepare meats including bacon, ham, sausage, pâtés and confit) as well as loose seeds, tea and nuts. It has begun stocking some prepared foods and is the only store in Belmont where you can buy your pickles – five varieties – straight from the barrel.


But the couple will be coming before a board that has not awarded a retail beer and wine license in years. In the past 18 months, the board has rejected applications by three Trapelo Road stores – each within a few blocks of Art’s – and from Jimmy’s Food Mart at the corner of Belmont and School streets which was denied a license in March. The business has since closed after a fire destroyed the location

The former board that rejected the earlier bids criticized the nature of the businesses – quick-visit variety or convenient stores – which sold lottery tickets and tobacco products, fearing they would quickly evolve into package stores.

But unlike the previous applicants, Bonislawski contends Art’s Specialties – which does not hold a lottery license or sells cigarettes – will remain true to its current business plan.

“Sometimes when a store receives a liquor license, they begin pushing the alcohol. That’s not the case here,” said Bonislawski.

For the working couple – Nergaryan is a bank manager in Belmont and Bonislawski a librarian in Cambridge – Art’s is an opportunity to break into retail trade with what Nergaryan is familiar with (he grew up making cheese after coming to the US from Armenia).

“We love being here, and we’ve received a good reception from other businesses and residents,” she said. “They said how much we’re helping change the neighborhood.”

Citing Precedence, Selectmen Deny Jimmy’s Food Mart Beer/Wine License

Photo: The owners of Jimmy’s Food Mart, Surinder Kaur Dhaliwal and Parmjit Singh with their attorney, Steve Rosales, before the Board of Selectmen.

Citing a precedence in opposing past applicants which failed a fluid set of criteria, the Belmont Board of Selectmen unanimously denied a license to Jimmy’s Food Mart to sell beer and wine from the store at the corner of Belmont and School streets.

“This is about fairness,” Selectman Sami Baghdady told the Belmontonian after the meeting held on Monday, March 16, referring to the board’s recent denials to a pair of Trapleo Road businesses which failed to meet a benchmark of requirements set when the board OK’ed a full liquor license for the Loading Dock on Brighton Street in May 2014.

“If we denied LC Variety and Trapelo Variety

for not meeting certain community standards, how do we approve Jimmy’s when they also failed to do so? That’s unfair to the others,” he explained.

The board’s decision now places the future of Jimmy’s Food Mart into question.

“I don’t know if we can stay open,” said co-owner Parmjit Singh told the Belmontonian after the meeting.

Singh said he heeded the board’s suggestions made by the board three weeks prior when he and his wife and co-owner Surinder Kaur Dhaliwal, first presented their application for a beer and wine license.

“We did all they asked. Why did they now reject us? The business is changed to what they wanted,” he asked Belmont attorney Steve Rosales, who represented the couple.

In their application, the owners informed the town the store would provide popular and affordable brands of beer and wine, products in demand as the four current beer and wine and full liquor license holders in Belmont are providing selections that are viewed as more selective.

“I don’t know about you, but I like,” said Rosales.

At the meeting in February, the board informed the couple it would view their license application more favorably if they fundamentally changed their business model from a corner store selling the staples and sundries into food preparation and a “market”-style operation. The meeting was continued until this Monday.

Singh and Dhaliwal bought the shuttered site of the former Shore Drug in 2013 and opened it as a convenience store in January 2014. The store is managed by their son and business partner, Jimmy Singh. Since opening, neighborhood reaction has been overwhelmingly favorable, with residents commending the owners for operating a clean and inviting business.

Hannah Haynes, who lives on Lewis Road, said Singh polices the area including keeping the sidewalk clear of snow beyond the business’ boundaries and conveniently staying open into the night.

“For someone who works late, I appreciate the light and activity the store brings to the street,” Haynes told the board.

Since the February meeting, the store has set aside a significant square footage of floor space to accommodate South Asian foods, products and fresh “to-go” foods, transforming the store into an “international” market. Singh said he has not yet created a spot to serve or consume food since he would need to obtain a common victualler license.

While praising the new business plan the board strongly suggested Singh and Dhaliwal adopt, and the owners’ decision to voluntarily end tobacco sales, Baghdady said the business, “still doesn’t feel right to me that you have lottery sales.”

“Honestly, [lottery sales] is inconsistent with your business plan,” said Baghdady, telling the owners they would “do better if you got off the lottery and focused on the ethnic food products.”

Singh told the board lottery sales allows the store to stay in operation, providing the business a small profit to soften the high cost of doing business at the site including a $4,000 a month rent in addition to other fees and taxes he must pay.

“I need the lottery. It’s very hard for me to make my money [from the store alone],” said Singh, noting that similar Indian stores in Somerville, Cambridge and surrounding areas all sell lottery tickets to customers who are from South Asia.

Baghdady would not budge from his and the board’s demand the store abandoned lottery sales, noting the “precedence” set in rejecting two previous applications.

Rosales told the board the precedence from the Loading Dock decision was if an establishment wanted a full liquor license, “then you give up [lottery and tobacco] sales.”

The pleas did not move the board.

“I clearly understand that the lottery is a revenue source, but I don’t think you have it tonight, unfortunately,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo.

In addition, the Board noted traffic issues existed on nearby Lewis Road – running perpendicular to Belmont on the same block as Jimmy’s – which could be exasperated with vehicle traffic from Jimmy’s customers.

While Lewis Road residents were critical of the parking and traffic on the roadway at the February meeting, they were nearly universal in commending the owners in their commitment to operating a neighborhood-friendly store.

“I encourage you to keep working on your business plan, expand your business and when you’re ready, then come back,” said Baghdady, suggesting a return is possible in “eight months.”

“I don’t know how they are not ready now?” queried Rosales.

The board voted to accept Baghdady’s “itemized reasons” for denying the application; “I don’t think the use is capable with that neighborhood, I think a lottery license is incapable with our previous decisions and until the Traffic Advisory Committee does take some action on Lewis Road, I think this affects traffic in the residential areas.”

When asked if the board has established a “criteria” for future beer and wine applicants must follow, Baghdady said the board’s new “guidelines” should be taken into consideration by any business seeking a beer and wine license.

“They should know what we expect from applicants,” said Baghdady.

The presence of an unwritten set of rules applying troubled Rosales, a past member of the Board of Selectmen.

“Let me just say personally, [unwritten guidelines] would have been unthinkable when I was a member of the [board of selectmen],” Rosales told the Belmontonian.

When asked to elaborate, Rosales declined with a shake of the head.

When asked if the board has established a criteria future beer and wine applicants must adhere to, Baghdady said the board’s new “guidelines” should be taken into consideration by any business seeking a license.

“They should know what we expect from applicants,” said Baghdady.

When told of the possible closure of the year old operation, Baghdady said the owners should not have based a business decision on the “hope” they would receive a beer and wine license.

“They should have made opening the business contingent on receiving a license, not the other way around,” he said.

Selectmen Declare Package Stores Unwelcome in Belmont

Photo: Manager Kiran Nagar of Trapelo Variety with attorney Jake Walters (right) and husband Ajay Nagar before the Belmont Board of Selectmen.

The attempt by a young business couple to bring beer and wine to Belmont’s Central Square (the intersection of Trapelo Road and Beech Street) did not pass the “character” test before the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday night, Dec. 1.

With the selectmen voicing a growing number of concerns and a half-dozen neighbors expressing discontent with the business centered on selling alcohol, the Selectmen rejected the application of a wine and malt retail license to Kiran and Ajay Nagar of Trapelo Variety located at 386 Trapelo Rd.

“It’s really about the character of the store,” said Selectman Mark Paolillo after being told by the Nagar’s that the small storefront business – with about 500 square-feet of business space – they bought in August would focus nearly exclusively on the sale of alcohol along with two of its most popular items, cigarettes and lottery tickets, if it received the license.

Pointing to the Selectmen’s decision in May to reject a beer and wine license to LC Variety a few hundred feet down Trapelo Road from the Trapelo Variety, Paolillo noted the Selectmen then were troubled by the same mix of lottery tickets, alcohol and tobacco at the location.

“I don’t see how I can vote to approve this application when we denied one for LC Variety,” said Paolillo.

“It’s also how the town sees itself,” said Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas, noting the four establishments with either beer and wine or full-alcohol licenses – The Loading Dock, Belmont Center’s Craft Beer Cellar and Vintages Adventures in Wine and The Spirited Gourmet in Cushing Square – have a polished “upscale” feel while “[t]his feels like a package store.” 

In addition, Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan wrote to the board opposing the license as the store was within 500 feet of the playground of the Daniel Butler Elementary School on White Street.

“My concern is the proximity with the Butler School,” said Selectman Sami Baghdady, saying the neighborhood was a “very family friendly” which ran countered to a alcohol-centric retail operation.

Kiran Nagar, who manages and runs the current store, said the proposed store would allow local residents to purchase beer and wine in Belmont rather than heading to Waltham or Watertown.

“This will allow us to increase business and revenue for the town and allow us to grow,” said Nagar, who indicated that they would likely take over the space currently occupied by an insurance agency next door if the license was granted.

While residents said they have seen an improvement in overall cleanliness and that Nagar is an outgoing merchant, residents did not support the move to beer and wine sale.

“I can’t see how a package store is an addition to the area,” said Dave Skolnick of Hull Street. “It doesn’t do the town justice.”

In the end, the worries outweighed the advantages of the business plan and the board rejected the proposal.