Princeton University and the Terra Momo Group have agreed to discontinue discussions regarding a lease to operate the restaurant and café that will be developed at the historic former Dinky Station as part of the school’s $320 million arts and transit neighborhood.
“The renovation and expansion of the existing former train station buildings will continue and the University has begun a process to identify another operator for the restaurant and café,” Princeton University Spokesman Martin Mbugua said. “The University also has entered into a contract to purchase a liquor license that is intended to be used at the café and restaurant.”
The university is in negotiations to purchase a liquor license from restauranteur Jack Morrison, sources have confirmed. Morrison has a license that is not currently in use. He paid about $1 million for the license after the Princeton Sports Bar (formerly The Annex) closed a few years ago.
The Terra Momo Group was selected to run the cafe and restaurant at the former Dinky station in 2013. It is not clear why the Momo Group and the University have parted ways on the project.
In June of last year, Planet Princeton won a lawsuit against the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control regarding public records related to a potential liquor license for the eateries. Planet Princeton received the records as a result of the lawsuit, as well as attorney fees.
Each town in the state is allotted a set number of liquor licenses based on the municipality’s population. In Princeton, all of the regular liquor licenses are taken. The Terra Momo Group, which operates Teresa Caffe, Mediterra, Eno Terra and the Terra Momo Bread Company, was hoping alcohol could be served at the new eateries by obtaining a special concessionaire’s permit that costs $2,000 a year and is usually limited to concession stands on state property. The state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control would need to approve such a permit. Another possibility that was also suggested was that the project receive a smart growth project designation to obtain a special liquor license.
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, whose husband is a professor at Princeton University, wrote a letter to the commissioner of Alcoholic Beverage Control in September of 2013 in support of awarding the special permit to the Terra Momo Restaurant Group. Planet Princeton received a copy of the letter through the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Lempert told The Daily Princetonian that she did not see any reason not to intervene, because the University did not ask her to write a letter on behalf of the business, and therefore there was no conflict of interest.