Coronavirus: Halpatter considered a bar, not a restaurant under governor's new rule

  • Halpatter Brewing Company.
    Halpatter Brewing Company.

What’s the difference between a bar that serves food and a restaurant that sells food?

Right now, it’s open doors and customers.

Halpatter Brewing Company, a homegrown drinking establishment and craft beer operation in downtown Lake City, opted to stay open for St. Patrick’s Day despite an executive order from the governor’s office shutting down all bars and nightclubs in the state. The business believed it could continue operating as a restaurant that happened to serve alcoholic beverages, and stuck with that position when police officers came to enforce the new mandate, said co-owner Chris Candler. 

The gambit didn’t work, Candler said, but all was not lost.

“Yeah, we thought we had maybe caught a loophole, but let’s be honest — we’re a bar,” Candler said.

The officers who came to lay down the law were cordial, said Candler, who wasn’t there at the time but heard about the encounter later. 

“They were really cool about it,” he said. “It wasn’t a confrontational situation or anything.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the order earlier on Tuesday. Though bars were forced to shut their doors, restaurants were allowed to remain open at half capacity. 

“We were confused as to the classification of what was a bar and what was a restaurant,” Candler said. “We hold both licenses.”

On Facebook, Halpatter announced it was carrying on with a Saint Patrick’s Day event it had planned.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that the Halpatter team got clarification after seeing the order in writing, Candler said. 

“We found out about it after we already had a taproom full of people,” he said. 

Businesses that get more than 51 percent of their revenue from food are considered restaurants, according to the order. 

“Our alcohol sales are four times what our food sales are,” Candler said. 

The Lake City Police Department didn’t force the bar to close down Tuesday night. Police Chief Argatha Gilmore on Wednesday said she was waiting for clarification from the city’s growth management director, David Young.

But it was a moot point by then, as Halpatter has accepted it must cease alcohol sales. 

“There’s penalties if we do fudge it, and I’m not in the business of fudging things,” Candler said. 

That doesn’t mean the business has to shut down completely, Candler said.

He said bars that serve food are allowed to continue selling food as long as no alcohol is sold for on-site consumption.

Halpatter, which has its own craft brewery, can continue serving chicken wings and the like, Candler said. It can even sell canned beer and growlers for off-site consumption. 

“We can at least go ahead and continue to make some revenue,” he said. “A lot of our friends in the industry — it’s going to be rough. I mean there’s people that may not make it through this.”

Candler said people have called to ask him how to help Halpatter’s workers.

“Come in, buy a panini and drop them a good tip,” Candler said.