When designing Mountain West Hard Cider’s new patio, owners Jeff and Jennifer Carleton wanted to re-create an outdoor venue reminiscent of an Old World German beer garden.
They brought in long, communal tables and bought a large tentlike awning to create shade. They landscaped with gravel walkways, wood planter boxes and hanging flower baskets. They also invited a rotating list of food trucks to park on-site and serve everything from pizza to curry, depending on the day.
The only thing this 8,000-square-foot patio — dubbed The Garten — doesn’t have is a permanent liquor license from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The DABC isn’t trying to block the business, Jeff Carleton insists. There’s just not a state liquor license that seems to fit this spot at 417 N. 400 West in Salt Lake City’s transforming Marmalade neighborhood.
The Garten, for example, doesn’t qualify for a restaurant liquor license, because it doesn’t have an on-site kitchen.
In June, the Carletons applied for a reception center license with the DABC, but the state liquor commission wasn’t sure that having food trucks fit the “culinary facilities” requirement of the license. The commission turned to the Utah attorney general’s office for advice.
An opinion, issued in July, essentially determined that The Garten “did not meet the statutory standards of possessing culinary facilities and, as such, cannot be granted a reception center license," said DABC spokesman Terry Wood.
“We do sympathize with The Garten,” he aded, “and will continue to work with them so culinary facilities that would meet the requirements of state law could be arranged.”
A bar license could be another option to pursue, but the Carletons are hesitant. They would prefer to keep The Garten an all-ages venue, so parents — such as Murray resident Janae Smith — could bring their minor children.
“We heard about it on Facebook and decided to come have dinner and hang out as a family,” said Smith, who was joined at The Garten on a recent Saturday by her husband, their young daughter, and her mother and brother. “It’s really a great atmosphere, a nice environment.”
The Garten’s predicament is an example of how complicated Utah’s liquor laws can be for businesses.
For now, the Carletons have found a temporary solution to their liquor license woes by getting special-event permits from the DABC. Each permit allows the venue to sell beer, wine and spirits for up to three days at a time. To fit the requirement, The Garten is open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Under state law, groups and businesses are allowed only 12 special-event permits a year, which limits the number of weekends The Garten can be open.
This creates inconsistency, which can be confusing for customers, said Jeff Carleton, who spent 10 years stationed in Germany as an officer in the U.S. Army. He and Jennifer have spent at least $50,000 to purchase the empty lot next to their cider production facility and pay for the improvements.
That’s a hefty investment to be open only 12 weekends a year, Carleton said. “It would be nice to have a longer season and for our customers to know when we are going to be open."
Several nonprofit and community groups have rented the venue for events, which will help to keep The Garten open into October, said Jennifer Carleton. This weekend, Sept. 7-9, Salt Lake City’s Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls will hold BABEfest; next weekend, Sept. 14-16, the Harvest Bash, sponsored by the Green Urban Lunch Box, will take over the space; and Sept. 21-25, is the Marmalade Jam Fest.
The licensing dilemma is not the first time the owners of Mountain West Hard Cider have had trouble with state alcohol laws. Since 2015, when Mountain West Cider opened, the state was taxing cider producers the same as winemakers, and it was crushing the company’s ability to expand.
The Carletons spent more than a year — and hired a lobbyist — to help change the law and create a separate tax category for ciders, similar to what is done by the federal government, which makes it easier to grow their business. The Legislature approved the change earlier this year along with several other alcohol policy updates.
The Carletons are contemplating a similar effort for The Garten.
Customers like Salt Lake City resident Michel Segovia would welcome the effort because "this is going to be my new spot,” she said, as she sat at the bar with her friends and listened to Spot & Waldo perform country and rock favorites.
Yee Thao lives in a nearby apartment building and walked with friends to The Garten. “It’s a cool, laid-back spot,” he said. “It’s a hidden gem that people need to know about.”