Johnson County micro-breweries hoping to see 30% sales from food requirement lifted

Roxie Hammill - April 12, 2019 8:00 am
Limitless Brewing
Emily Mobley in the brewing room at Lenexa’s Limitless Brewery. Mobley said Johnson County’s existing 30%-of-sales-from-food rule make operating a brew pub a logistical challenge.

A proposal that would make it easier to run a brew pub in Johnson County is being discussed as a possible ballot issue in upcoming elections.

The Johnson County Commission are looking into how soon voters might be able to decide whether to continue a requirement that an establishment must make at least 30 percent of its sales from food in order to also sell alcoholic drinks.

Commissioner Steve Klika said he’s in favor of putting the idea before voters.

The rule has been in place since the mid 1980s and has been a major impediment to craft brewers, which have become a popular draw in other parts of Kansas City. The county’s fledgling micro-brewery scene and fans of craft beer are keen to get it changed.

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Commissioner Becky Fast said she’s heard from over 40 people, many of them in their 20s and 30s, who would like to see the 30 percent rule gone. “People are excited about it,” she said. Fast and Commissioner Steve Klika said they would support putting it up for a vote.

The 30 percent rule is a vestige of Kansas’ strict alcohol regulations dating back to the 1880s. The state had prohibition until 1948, but eventually allowed counties the option of becoming “wet.” In 1986, Johnson County allowed public houses, but only with the 30 percent rule.

That helped restaurants, but hasn’t been good for all the start-up breweries. “It’s super cost prohibitive to have a professional kitchen put in,” said Sara Charlson, co-owner of Rockcreek Brewing Co. which plans to open in Mission in October.

“Honestly we were looking for property on the Missouri side specifically because of that,” she said. Missouri’s more relaxed rules have created a thriving craft brew scene in which patrons can walk from store to store, sampling new beers, she said. That could become a reality in Mission as well, she said.

Running a restaurant, however, is not an area of expertise for most start-up brewers, she said.

Many of them solve the food problem by inviting food trucks to park outside and then handling their sales. Limitless Brewing in Lenexa does that on weekends.

Food trucks have their own drawbacks, though, said Emily Mobley, co-owner of Limitless. For instance, sales on some weeknights may not be high enough to guarantee a good profit for the food truck operators. In that case, the Limitless has to get busy selling snacks, she said.

Even when the food trucks are present, the 30 percent law is a challenge, Mobley said. “The more food I sell the more beer I sell,” she said. That should be a good thing, “but then I’m worried about the ratio.”

Charlson adds that not every city allows the food trucks, and that running a constant schedule of trucks outside would be “a logistical nightmare.”

Johnson County’s new brewers haven’t formed an association or web site, but they have made a concerted effort to talk to county commissioners about getting the 30 percent rule changed. Johnson County is the last large county in Kansas to have the requirement, Mobley said.

People are no less likely to over drink at a small brewery than at a mainline sit-down restaurant, she said. But in any case, drunkenness has not been a problem at her business.

Commissioners talked briefly about the idea at the end of their meeting Thursday. They did not take formal action, but asked staff for more information about the legal issues, when it could be put on the ballot and how the ballot language might be worded.

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