BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A sign on the door of the Farmhouse Restaurant on Indian Rocks Road advises patrons who wish to be served beer or wine to request seating only in a dining room located down a corridor to the right. Alcohol is forbidden at tables in the dining area immediately off the entrance.
The somewhat quirky arrangement, which lends a modern-day speakeasy aura to the otherwise homey eatery, is due to restrictions handed down by the city of Belleair Bluffs, according to the sign on the door.
The city’s alcohol regulations have divided the restaurant’s dining areas into two zones – one where alcohol is permitted and the other bone dry.
The situation has left owner Joe Hanas perplexed and frustrated. An experienced restaurateur, Hanas said that he can recall hearing of only one other instance in the country where a similar situation exists.
“That was a facility in North Georgia on the Tennessee border that was split by the state line,” he said.
Hanas said that he waited three months for an OK to serve beer and wine and now he finds out that restrictions make part of the restaurant area off limits.
“We were somewhat blindsided by all of this as we had heard that alcohol had been served here before (when the restaurant operated as the French Hen),” Hanas said.
As to why one building can have both a wet and dry alcohol status, public works director Robert David offers this explanation. For starters, the structure sits in the city’s so-called R-O-R (Residential-Office-Retail) corridor, a section north of West Bay Drive along Indian Rocks Road where regulations governing alcohol are stricter than in the commercial district on West Bay Drive.
Second, according to David, the original variance to serve alcohol on the property was granted in connection with former owner Linda Hogan’s desire to operate a small restaurant area as an adjunct to her French Hen gift shop.
David also said that the restaurant is closer than allowed to the Belleair Food Mart, which the city’s legal counsel considers to be a “like establishment” in that it also sells alcohol. He said that in addition the building may also be too near to neighboring condos, although he said he has not actually made a measurement of the distance.
Hanas said that his measurements show he is beyond the required 200 foot separation from the condos. He also maintains that the food mart is a grocery and not a “like business” to his restaurant.
Besides, Hanas said, he is operating a quiet, orderly establishment where guests eat homestyle meals at rustic tables surrounded by antiques and homespun gifts. Hardly a roadhouse setting, he maintains. Hanas says that by serving alcohol, he is simply responding to the requests of significant numbers of his customers for a beer or glass of wine with their meal.
“Before, I had people walk out after finding that no alcohol was available,” he said.
During the slow season, Hanas maintains that he needs the alcohol sales and paying customers to survive.
“It’s a financial need,” he said. “We are trying to compete with the Cody’s and Bonefish Grill and E&E Steakout, in effect with one hand tied behind our back.”
Hanas said that the restaurant will be hosting a group of Red Hat Society women and a Bluffs Business Association function. Observing the alcohol boundaries in his restaurant is difficult and cumbersome, especially during group functions, which he notes are very profitable.
“We’d like to have their repeat business, so I hope we can make it work to everyone’s satisfaction,” he said.
David said that while he understands Hanas’ concerns, there is little recourse other than to bring his case to the Circuit Court.
“The city commission cannot overrule the Board of Adjustments and the Board of Adjustments cannot grant a variance on top of (an existing) variance,” he said.
David also said that Hanas was made aware of the alcohol situation by former Farmhouse owners Kim and Tyler South.
Meanwhile, the Hanas’ ponder their next step, continue to direct patrons to appropriate tables for alcohol service, and otherwise deal with the dilemma of presiding over what is, in Robert David’s words, “a house divided.”