Each town in the state is allotted a set number of liquor licenses based on the municipality’s population. In Princeton, all of the liquor licenses are taken. So when Princeton University announced last spring that the Terra Momo Restaurant Group had been selected to operate a café and restaurant that will serve wine and beer at the historic Dinky station buildings, the news raised the question — how would a liquor license be obtained for the project?
The Terra Momo Restaurant Group, which operates Teresa Caffe, Mediterra, Eno Terra and the Terra Momo Bread Company, is hoping alcohol can be served at the new eateries by obtaining a special concessionaire’s permit. The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control would need to approve the permit. Such agreements are common at places like Giant Stadium and the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.
“The state issues the concessionare’s license and we would pay a fee if it is approved,” Raoul Momo said in a phone interview this afternoon. “It’s a long shot, but the state considers this a valuable project for New Jersey. It’s a unique project. Let’s face it. It’s ridiculous that you can’t get a liquor license in New Jersey because of the laws, which date back to prohibition.”
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, whose husband is a professor at Princeton University, wrote a letter to the state last month in support of awarding a permit to the Terra Momo Restaurant Group for the Princeton University project. Planet Princeton obtained the letter through the state’s Open Public Records Act.
“The Arts and Transit Complex is a large scale development by Princeton University on Princeton University land. The Arts and Transit neighborhood will be the home of the new
Lewis Center of the Arts. Additionally, the train depot located on the Princeton University campus commonly referred to as the `Dinky’ will be converted into a multimodal transportation hub with parking for patrons,” Lempert wrote to Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Michael Halfacre on Sept. 12. “As part of this project the University requested bids from restaurateurs for the operation of two eateries situated at the site. The restaurant project was awarded to Terra Momo based on their bid. They propose to operate a restaurant and cafe at the site. The proximity of the restaurant and cafe will allow the businesses to `share’ a liquor license or permit. The focus will be on providing customers with high quality food accompanied by suitable fine wine. The Terra Momo Group has an established reputation in the Princeton community. They operate businesses such as Mediterra…all with the same business model of fine food and fine wine. I do not expect anything different at the Princeton University site.
“I am persuaded their business plan requires a liquor license or permit to be successful. The purpose of this letter is to endorse their request for your assistance in
procuring a permit from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control,” Lempert wrote. “The Terra Momo Group and its various enterprises are solid long standing members of the Princeton community. They have an untarnished reputation as restaurateurs and I am firmly convinced their business model for the Arts and Transit Project will support the needs of visitors while also appealing to faculty, staff, students and commuters.”
In 2010, the the New Jersey Appellate Division upheld the decision of the Director of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to issue a special concessionaire permit to the proposed Benihana restaurant in the controversial Meadowlands Xanadu Project. The ruling allowed Xanadu bars and restaurants to avoid acquiring costly plenary retail consumption licenses from existing East Rutherford licensees. A special concessionaire permit normally costs $2,000 annually and is issued directly from the state. The restaurant obtaining such a permit is usually located on property owned or controlled by the state, however.
Some officials were under the impression that the Terra Momo Group was seeking a special no-fee license under state smart growth legislation that allows for additional liquor licenses in redevelopment zones that meet several criteria. Momo said today that the Terra Momo Group is not seeking a special redevelopment zone license.
Princeton has 13 liquor licenses, and all of them are active. The last recent license sale was in September, when the Princeton Council approved the liquor license transfer between the now-defunct Princeton Sports Bar and Grill and restauranteur Jack Morrison for about $1 million, according to public records. Under state law, the governing body of each municipality usually is the body that has the issuing authority for liquor licenses unless the municipality has a local alcoholic beverage control board.
Momo said the addition of one more liquor license in Princeton would not devalue the other Princeton businesses’ licenses.
“We own two liquor licenses in Princeton,” Momo said. “We wouldn’t do anything to harm the value of of those licenses.”