Selectmen OK Loading Dock Alcohol License With Conditions

Photo: Faud Mukarker (right) before the Board of Selectmen

After a sometimes contentious meeting which appeared an agreement would unravel before one could be struck, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Monday, Jan. 9 to grant a “pour” alcohol license to Faud Mukarker, owner of The Loading Dock on Brighton Street.

But the approval came with two significant conditions imposed on the permit, preconditions the board required of Mukarker who only four months previous transferred an all-alcohol retail license for a $400,000 “compensation fee” to regional supermarket chain Star Market.

Under the conditions accepted by Mukarker, the business is required to pay $11,000 in back payments he owes to Belmont Light, the town’s electrical utility, and he will accept the decision of a Special Town Meeting likely scheduled for February if the 290-member legislative body approves a complete ban on transferring alcohol licenses or the use as collateral in securing loans.

After the meeting, Mukarker appeared more relieved than pleased leaving the hour and 20-minute marathon hearing.

“I am happy we got the license,” said Mukarker after the decision, who said the “pour” license was critical to his operation surviving financially.

He also said “I will follow anything the [Special Town] Meeting decides” on transferability.

But crafting the agreement was anything but a smooth journey. After an hour of hearing public comments and the give and take between the board and Mukarker and his team, the first attempt at a consensus to move forward took the business owner and his supporters by surprise.

Mukarker began the meeting by pledging not to transfer the license for two years and not use it as a guarantee for collateral for one year. But those bans were less than airtight as he wanted a mechanism to return to the board during the time of the voluntary restriction to ask to lift the prohibition.

The public was divided in its support for and opposition to the proposal. Elizabeth Dionne of Wellesley Road said Mukarker had shown bad faith with the sale of the previous license which was used to pay off a mountain of bills.

“If he does not have a viable business, you do not have any business granting him another license,” she told the board.

Kenny Hamilton, who described himself as the “The Loading Dock’s consulting CFO” and “right-hand man,” said Mukarker was “always” seeking a pouring license since a Small Business Administration loan which was part of the firm’s refinancing program required the owner having one.

“So the viability of the business has always been there,” said Hamilton, demonstrated by the business surviving 16 months without selling alcohol to customers.

“I know for a fact that Mr. Mukarker feels very badly about the stress he put on the selectmen … and the citizens of the town,” said Hamiliton. “So the idea how he won the lottery … that is not the case.”

Hamilton, who said he “guided the finances” of the business, did provide interesting financial information concerning the business including that the renovation of the former White Hen Pantry into the new eatery cost Mukarker $3 million, with the owner spending $1 million from his pocket.

But it was revealed Mukarker was playing with a weak hand as information of his financial issues were laid out on the table. Town sources report the Loading Dock being $11,000 in arrears to the town for an unpaid electric bill and has been placed by the utility on a long-term payment plan to begin chipping away at the debt.

Second was the restaurant had yet to close on the Small Business Administration loan to pay for outstanding bills despite telling the board it was all but finalized. Also, the $400,000 from Star Market had yet to be delivered to Mukarker.

Finally, Hamilton noted the business’ original lender, Leader Bank, “did not have faith in the project” which required Murkarker to accept a plan designed by Eastern Bank to continue running the retail/restaurant store.

For Selectman Chair Mark Paolillo and his vice chair Sami Baghdady, the concerns of the business’ financial viability and Mukarker’s past action with the retail license allowed them to play hardball with the business.

“My concern is that without any restriction, what happens if God forbid if you go bankrupt? If the SBA loan doesn’t close?” said Baghdady.

The first counteroffer by Baghdady to Murkarker took the breath away from The Loading Dock supporters: withdraw the application and reapply in six months during which time the business would close on all the loans and other issues.

“Regarding transferability, we need the guidance of Town Meeting,” said Baghdady.

During the period without a permit, the restaurant would “have alternatives” said Baghdady, including to serve alcohol from customers who brought their bottles – under a “BYOB” provision in state law – and request one-day liquor licenses.

Under that scheme, the sensitive issue of transferability would not be a problem, said both Baghdady and Paolillo.

Murkarker and Hamilton issued a complaint that the board’s initial plan would place the restaurant’s future in jeopardy while Hamilton said bank and SBA loans would need to be “redone” creating an even greater time delay.

Selectman Jim Williams came to Murkarker’s defense, saying the limitations on the licenses were anti-business.

It had taken another 10 minutes before the selectmen arrived at the compromise of Murkarker making his electrical bill whole and accept the vote of the Special Town Meeting.

“Sometimes coming to an agreement that everyone can agree to is a little messy,” said Baghdady.

Oy Vey: Selectmen’s Liquor License Meeting Moved to Thursday, Oct. 6

Photo: The initial meeting on the transfer of a full alcohol license.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen has rescheduled the continuance of a meeting on the proposed transfer of a full-liquor license, moving the date from Monday, Oct. 3 to Thursday, Oct. 6.

The move was necessitated after the board realized the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Oct. 2 and ends at nightfall on Oct. 4. 

“We didn’t want to offend anyone, so that’s why we moved it up three days,” said Mark Paolillo, Selectmen chair at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 26. 

It is expected the meeting, involving the request by Faud Mukarker, the owner of Brighton Road’s The Loading Dock, to transfer the business’ full alcohol license to the corporation that owns Star Market, which will use the license to place a 2,000 sq.-ft. beer/wine/liquor department in its Waverley Square store. The company would compensate Mukarker $400,000 for the loss of the license.

The initial meeting on Sept. 19 ended in acrimony as the Selectmen would not approve the transaction at the time to the dismay of Mukarker and his supporters.

Selectmen Question Proposed Liquor License Transfer to Star Market

Photo: The Loading Dock’s Fuad Mukarker (left center, arms folded) before the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday. 

At a meeting that grew more impassioned as the night wore on, the owner of a Belmont business came before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday evening, Sept. 19, seeking its approval of a deal that could change the face of alcohol licensing in Belmont for years to come.

Before the three-member board was the unlikely pairing of Fuad Mukarker, the owner of the popular dining location The Loading Dock on Brighton Street and the regional supermarket heavyweight, Star Market, which Mukarker is hoping to transfer his business’ full-liquor license for $400,000 in “compensation.” 

Bringing hundreds of signatures and approximately 40 supporters to make passionate pleas allow their “friend and neighbor” to bank nearly half a million dollars for the license the town provided him almost 18 months ago, the selectmen were noticeably wary of possibly creating a precedent of rubber stamping a deal that disregards what the three said is the all-important application process.

“This is not about [Mukarker],” said Mark Paolillo, Selectmen chair who said the board would attempt to help him continue operating the Mediterannian-theme cafe that has received excellent reviews in local media. ‘This is about the applicant [Star Market].” 

The town established retail “to provide a license to local business such as the Loading Dock” and not to provide “Star Market with 2,000 sq.-ft. of alcohol sales.” 

“So I’m uncomfortable with the transfer,” said Paolillo. “I’m leaning to deny this.” 

That did not sit well with some members of the public.

“Can we help out an average small time guy. Can we do the right thing here?” said Stephen Kerins, of Sandrick Road and Precinct 8 Town Meeting member. 

After another resident had suggested the board was unfairly targeting the store/cafe, Paolillo lashed out uncharacteristically to the citizen. (He would later apologize via a Facebook posting to the resident.)

While the transfer of a license is a standard business practice across the Commonwealth – last month the Selectmen approved one to the new owner of Vintages in Belmont Center – the issue is the location and who benefits from the transaction.

Full alcohol licenses are coveted by merchants as only two are set aside for retail/store operations in Belmont. The number was purposely limited in an attempt to discourage large retail liquor stores coming to Belmont. 

The selectmen said the intention of past town meetings which approved the lifting of the 140-year ban on alcohol in the late 1990s was to use the licenses approved by the state legislature to “create economic diversity in vulnerable communities and not to establish package stores in Belmont,” said Paolillo. 

The last time a new license was presented in 2014, Mukarker beat out applications from Waltham-based D&L Liquors and the Craft Beer Cellar of Belmont Center to sell beer, wine and spirits at his store, The Loading Dock, which the Belmont resident transformed from a White Hen Pantry franchise and later an independent convenience store.

Star Market’s attorney Joseph Hanley, a partner at Boston-based McDermott, Quilty & Miller, noted that it is “common custom” for the owner of the license to be “compensated” for the purchase and sale of his license. 

“This happens in towns and cities in the Commonwealth routinely,” said Hanley.
Hanley said his review of Belmont’s 2014 Home Rule petition that provided for full alcohol licensing indicated no prohibition on transfers which the could have included two years ago but did not.
“We are here to provide economic and community development in the town of Belmont,” said Hanley, noting several times that Star Market has been a fixture in town for a quarter century and is about to undergo a $2.4 million renovation in which the transfer is an essential component.
Handley said with this investment into the store, “customers will come to expect a certain amount of amenities, and the alcohol license is critical to that [economic development] and folks who live in this town,” said Hanley.
Handley said the Belmont store has an experience manager in Steve Duran who ran the Cambridge store which has a thriving retail liquor operation. Additionally, the four current Star locations in Massachusetts – in Cambridge, Franklin and two in Boston – has been cited by the state’s alcohol control board just once in a decade for a violation of sales to minors.
With this transfer, the area of alcohol sales will triple from 700 to 20,000 sq.-ft. (although Handley believes the actual square footage to be utilized is far less) and move from a fledgling business area along Brighton Road to Waverley Square, a highly-traveled location in Belmont.
Asked why Star did not apply for a license in 2014, Duran said the company was limited to four licenses in Massachusetts due to state statute protecting small liquor retailers from large entities that have greater pricing advantages. That ceiling has been raised recently, allowing the corporation to pursue these licenses.

A $400,000 lifeline

While the transfer would be a great addition to a newly remodeled store, the transaction would be a lifeline for Mukarker, who indicated Monday that he needs the $400,000 to “keep the Loading Dock afloat” as the turns around his operation into a full-time restaurant.
Mukarker told the board “I loved this license from day one” and always wanted to keep it. But due to money spent on the building and other expenses, the former banker who became the owner of White Hen Pantry that once stood on the site needed some way to increase sales at the cafe. 
Determining that serving beer and wine with meals would meet his cash flow issue, Mukarker applied to the town for a beer and wine “pour” license that he could use at his expanding restaurant. 
But according to Mukarker, just days before his “pour” application was to be presented before the Selectmen earlier this year, his attorney was told by Belmont’s Town Counsel George Hall about “an absurd law” from 1964 preventing retail owners to have both a retail and pour license in the same establishment. (Selectman Jim Williams would later say that calling a state law “absurd” “is a silly one. It’s on the books, and we don’t do things that violate the law.”)
Hall, who attended Monday’s meeting, told the Selectmen a state’s high court ruling of a Cambridge case confirmed the law’s intent preventing such a dual arrangement.

When he heard  the decision, Mukarker said the full liquor license “was like hot lava in my hand; I wanted to get rid of it.”

Mukarker proceeded to reach out to both Foodies – the supermarket slated for a 2017 opening in Belmont Center – and D&L, which the selectmen rejected two years ago, but could not come up with a deal. With limited options before him, Mukarker received a call from Star Market. 

Later in the meeting, Mukarker said the transfer “is a crucial thing” and any delay in the conveyance “has a lot of bad implications for the business.”

While for Mukarker, Star and the residents in the audience, the license transfer is a win-win-win for the Loading Dock, the local supermarket, and fans of great meals, the implications of signing off on the deal looks dicier from the other side of the conference table, according to the Selectmen.

One issue that troubled the selectmen was when Hanley told Selectman Sami Baghdady that a list of restrictions placed on the license in 2014 preventing the sale of tobacco products and lottery tickets at the location “do not transfer automatically … with the license.” Hanley attempted to placate the board by saying lottery sales and tobacco products would be sold far from the alcohol area.

Paolillo told Hanley the restrictions have “always been a condition that we have taken in consideration on rewarding all license.” 

“Very consistent.”

“I understand your point of not transferring, but if you have watched our public hearings, we have been very consistent with this board in rewarding licenses,” said Paolillo. 

Hanley countered by saying that Star would follow each of the standard conditions the selectmen placed on the all-liquor license presented to Foodies including a detailed alcohol sales plan and a ban on the sale of kegs, single bottles and flashing neon lights.

But when it came to lottery and tobacco, “we would ask for, after 25 years, a little bit of flexibility with respect to the current restrictions,” said Hanley. Later, Dolan said the store would drop cigarettes from the store with the transfer. 

Mukarker said he understands Star’s reluctance to accept the limitations, saying he lost “over 50 percent” of his customers by giving up his lottery and tobacco businesses, a comment Paolillo found wanting of sympathy. 

“You’re saying that we put a burden on you when we granted you this license? That was a huge benefit to you,” said Paolillo.

“If I knew what was going to happen [accepting the license], I would have not even applied for [the all-liquor license],” said Mukarker.

To those who spoke – overwhelmingly for the transfer and in support of Mukarker – any delay in allowing the transaction to take place was threatening the livelihood of a local family and denying the public an opportunity to purchase alcohol in a convenient location.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Erin Lubien of Unity Avenue. “There are things we do in Belmont that are just difficult for business owners. They are families who live here … who employ our people here. You have to do this,” she said to loud applause. 

But it appeared a majority of selectmen were unwilling to OK the transfer without further discussion and input from more residents and businesses.

“We need to continue the hearing and talk to Star Market some more,” said Williams. 

Mukarker’s attorney Thomas Orlandi informed the board of his client’s displeasure for not voting immediately to approve the transfer, noting “you are elected officials” not to ignore the people in the gallery and the numerous signatures in support.

“We also represent the entire community,” said Paolillo. 

After Williams had explained the delay, Orlandi said that considerable amount of money had been spent by Star Market on architectural designs while Mukarker needs the transfer funds to continue his business. 

“How can you rely on the transfer [funds] when it hasn’t been approved?” wondered Williams. “I think as a matter of business practice, you should not rely on an approval unless you have it.”  

As Orlandi and Williams bickered, the public began chiming in and the meeting came close to resembling a cable news debate. Paolillo then stepped forward to tell everyone to “calm down.”

With everything that needed to be said, the Selectmen scheduled an additional meeting on Oct. 3 to finalize a decision on the possible transfer. 

The Loading Dock Starts Dinner Service as Bistro Increases Seating

Photo: The Loading Dock on Brighton Street. (Courtesy, Loading Dock)

When Fuad Mukarker received a full liquor license from the town a year-and-a-half ago in May 2014, he mentioned his new business, The Loading Dock on Brighton Street, “would become a destination for shopping and eating”

It took a while for his promise to come to fruition, but Mukarker is now just about ready to begin serving dinner at 11 Brighton St. within a week after the Zoning Board of Appeals approved on Monday, Dec. 7 his request to add 36 seats (30 inside, 6 outside) for a total of 60 on site.

The bistro/market with liquor sales held its grand opening in April. Since then, Mukarker has been slowing gearing up the operation, with an eye on serving dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on three nights, Thursday through Saturday.

“We are finally ready to ask for the seating,” said Mukarker, who came with more than 100 signatures of support backing his move.

The one big issue for the Board was that Mukarker could find the required 18 parking spots for the nearly 40 extra seats. With construction continuing across his parking lot on Belmont Light’s new electrical substation, Mukarker made arrangements with two local businesses, a nearby service center and a business across Brighton Street.

While his fellow commercial condominium client, attorney Joe Noone (whose office is located less than a block away from The Loading Dock), thought Mukarker was attempting to grab a hold on to too many spaces that were not sited adjacent to the bistro, the ZBA approved the request on the condition that Mukarker placed signs that clearly tells patrons where his spots are located.

With the parking issue resolved, Mukarker said he is looking to showcase events at the location, starting with a reading by four children’s authors this Sunday, Dec. 13 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Brighton Street’s Loading Dock Lands Full-Liqour License … with Conditions

Citing a chance to bring economic development to Brighton Street, the Belmont Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a full liquor license to The Loading Dock at 11 Brighton St. during a public meeting held before 90 residents and applicants at the Beech Street Center last night, Thursday, May 1.

“This is what I wanted for the store since I [first] arrived seven years ago,” said The Loading Dock’s owner and Belmont resident Faud Nicolas Mukarker after the vote.

Mukarker beat out applications from Waltham-based D&L Liquors and the Craft Beer Cellar of Belmont Center for the coveted full-liqour license, the only one to be presented.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen; (from left) Mark Paolillo, Andy Rojas and Sami Baghdady.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen; (from left) Mark Paolillo, Andy Rojas and Sami Baghdady.

While granting the license, the Selectmen placed a number of conditions on their approval, the most significant is that Mukarker must end the sale of tobacco and lottery tickets at the location as he transforms it into an “international bistro and cafeteria,” according to the Park Road resident.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.12.36 AM

Drawings of the proposed beer, wine and liquor area in an anticipated renovated The Loading Dock on Brighton Street.

In addition, the store can not sell individual cans of beer or “nips” – a tiny taster bottle of liquor usually 50 milliliters which is about a shot of liquor – employees must under go training on controlling sales to minors, the portion of the store reserved for liquor can not exceed 750 square feet and the business must hold a certification of occupancy from the town when the long-anticipated renovation of the site is completed. 

Mukarker said he will complete renovations at the site – which is another condition the Board is requiring of the owner before he can operate with the license – by August, dedicating between 500- to 750-square feet (about a third of the store’s footprint) to beer, wine and liquor.

In a separate vote, the Board declined an application for a wine and beer license to LC Variety on Trapelo Road due to space, cleanliness and management issues.

The native of Jerusalem left a position at Fleet Bank to become the manager of the then-White Hen Pantry at the location in 2006 before buying the location in 2011.