Missing ABC paperwork forces bar owner to take another shot

The Tequila Taco Bar, which took over the Brickhouse Tavern’s building, is nearly ready to open — except its owner is waiting on the ABC paperwork, which might have been lost in the mail.

This article was updated Aug. 24 at 1:54 p.m. with new information.

By Jessica Kronzer, contributor

The taco part of the new Tequila Taco Bar is pretty much ready, but the restaurant’s opening is delayed because of the tequila portion of its business model. 

Specifically, the owner of the establishment — on Main Street across from JMU’s campus at the former Brickhouse Tavern building — is trying to work out a snafu with the paperwork for a license to serve alcohol. 

As a result, the “Coming soon” on the marquis that’s been there since February will stay up a little longer. 

As advertised on the restaurant’s social media accounts, owner José Reyes planned to launch his business this summer. Reyes said he mailed his liquor license application to the Richmond headquarters of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) in early May. About two weeks ago, Reyes said a Virginia ABC representative told him his application wasn’t there. 

Reyes said the representative told him the Virginia ABC moved its headquarters in June, and the organization hadn’t received all of the forwarded mail from its old location. 

On Tuesday, he received his application back in the mail stamped with a “return to sender” notice saying the packet was “not deliverable as addressed return to sender.”Reyes had addressed the envelop to Virginia ABC’s prior headquarters on Hermitage Road in Richmond. 

Dawn Eischen, a spokeswoman with Virginia ABC, looked into Reyes’ case after being contacted by The Citizen.

“We regret that there is no record of an application received or payment from Tequila Taco Bar or any associated personal and/or trade name for this establishment,” Eischen said in an email. “This may be an issue for the U.S. Postal Service as ABC did not receive the application in question.”

This week, Reyes plans to drive over two hours to the agency’s new Mechanicville headquarters, his second application in hand, to ensure its reception. 

But that could mean late October before it opens. The earliest would be late September if Reyes submitted the paperwork again this week and the ABC fast-tracked it.  

Eischen said from start to finish, the license approval process usually takes 60-90 days. 

On average applications are processed in 60 days, she said. Turning in the needed documents and submitting the application directly to the ABC headquarters  — as opposed to mailing it to a local ABC office — can speed up that process. In some scenarios, Virginia ABC can process applications “as soon as the mandatory 30-day waiting period is over,” which is required by state law. 

Applying for a license requires three steps: submitting an application and nonrefundable fee to Virginia ABC, posting a notice for 10 complete consecutive days at the front of the business, and publishing the “notice of application” in local news. 

Reyes comes from a family of small business owners and has owned other restaurants in the past. He said he’s never waited more than 60 days for a liquor license. Virginia ABC’s website states retail applications should be sent “at least 60 days prior to scheduled opening date.”

In the meantime, Reyes is missing out on business, especially as university students return to Harrisonburg. Classes begin this week at JMU right across the street from the restaurant. 

Despite excited messages on social media from Harrisonburg residents and JMU students, Reyes said he won’t open his business until he’s granted a license. 

While some of Reyes’ family recommended he open his restaurant up now and just serve food, Reyes said he’s concerned that being unable to sell liquor could turn off customers, particularly in a college town. 

​​”You only get one opportunity from a lot of customers for them to come in the door and experience what you have to offer,” Reyes said.

Reyes has paid rent on the restaurant since May, but he has no way of knowing when the restaurant’s revenue will begin coming in to cover those rent payments.

“Not everybody has all this money to just pay rent and bills until you’re open,” Reyes said. “With us being family owned, obviously, it’s a little harder. But I mean we’re making it work. We just want to open.” 

He also said he’s concerned people will assume Tequila Taco Bar isn’t opening. Recently, he got a call from someone looking to rent the restaurant’s space. 

On the bright side, he said he’s received a lot of interest in people eating, drinking and working at the bar and restaurant. 

More than 50 people applied to work at Tequila Taco Bar, Reyes said. But he said he would consider it “unprofessional” to interview applicants with no start date in sight. 

Still, Reyes is excited to welcome JMU students and the rest of the Harrisonburg community to his restaurant after receiving his liquor license. He even worked his “magic” to create a JMU-themed margarita and a chocolate margarita, a speciality Reyes hasn’t seen “anywhere.”

“We’re pushing to get this license through and just ask people to be patient with us,” Reyes said. “I’m really thankful for the community. I’m thankful for everybody in Harrisonburg.”

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