The Boston Licensing Board's Feb. 14 agenda had a pair of unusual items. Under number 10, Redd's in Rozzie's owner, Charlie Redd, sought permission to sell his restaurant's liquor license to bartaco, a national upscale taco chain seeking to open its first Boston outlet, in Fort Point. Under number 11, Redd sought one of the "neighborhood" liquor licenses the city had won under a state law first proposed by City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.
By itself, Redd's first request, to sell off his license, was nothing unusual - except normally license owners only do that when they're going out of business and seeking to recoup the value of their one main asset - their liquor license. Because the state legislature has limited the number of licenses Boston has, their value on the open market has skyrocketed - at one point up to nearly $400,000 apiece.
But Redd wasn't going out of business, at least not then.
He told the board he saw the value of liquor licenses like his - which was included in a roughly $339,000 deal he'd made several years earlier with his landlord and a previous owner of the space's liquor license - and wanted to recoup his cost before the value plummeted even further. Instead, he wanted to get what he still could for his license and essentially trade it in for one of the lower-cost "neighborhood" licenses - which could not be sold on the open market and had to be returned to the board if the restaurant went out of business. That happened just across the street from Redd's last December, when the board took the license another chef had won for a restaurant in the old Roslindale trolley station and gave it to a Thai place on Mission Hill after the substation proposal foundered.
The board, though, denied Redd's request for a new neighborhood license - even before getting to the question of whether it even had any of the 60 licenses left.
In a denial letter sent last month, the licensing board said his request would subvert the whole reason for the licenses Pressley had helped get for the city - which were aimed at encouraging new restaurants to open up in under-served neighborhoods, such as Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, as well as "Main Street" areas such as Roslindale Square, and were not intended to let people cash in on licenses they had earlier paid for. It also cited a requirement to show a "public need" for a new license:
The Board noted that the purpose of the Neighborhood Restricted License was not to allow an existing licensee to gain a windfall by selling an unrestricted license on the open market to obtain a free, Neighborhood Restricted License. Further, the Board questioned the Applicant's ability to demonstrate a public need for the Neighborhood Restricted License ad the Premises as the Applicant was simultaneously applying to transfer the Existing License to a new location.
In his announcement today that he would be shutting Redd's next month, Redd blamed Pressley - who is seeking another 153 new liquor licenses for Boston, again mostly for outer neighborhoods - and district Councilor Tim McCarthy, whom he said supported Pressley's proposal.
This initiative is popular politics meant to drum up image for the individual city councillors' next political ambition, not change neighborhood licensing in a healthy manner. These type of drastic changes in restaurant licensing in neighboring areas have wiped out the value of licenses and I refuse to let that happen to my life savings.
Boston Magazine reports McCarthy said he considers Redd a friend and he is disappointed the restaurant is closing, but said the liquor-license issue has nothing to do with it. Pressley issued a statement that does not mention Redd's but points to her work in helping revitalize communities where start-up restaurants could not afford the costs of all the licenses snapped up by national chains downtown and along the water.