Utah restaurant liquor licenses are still scarce, DABS board says, even after Legislature’s additions

An influx of 30 new restaurant licenses and 15 bar licenses will hit Utah in May, but the commission will not begin issuing them until later in the month.

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) A glass of wine and plate of bread at a Salt Lake City restaurant in 2017. Utah's liquor commission warned restaurants at an April 27, 2023, meeting that it will be stringent with applications because of a scarcity of restaurant licenses, even with an influx of 30 extra licenses approved by the Utah Legislature that will become available in May 2023.

Even though the Utah Legislature is injecting 30 more restaurant liquor licenses into the system, the state’s liquor authority is warning applicants that they’re still going to be stingy in the approval process.

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services’ commissioners will continue using the same tough criteria on restaurants applying for liquor licenses, board chair Juliette Tennert said at Thursday’s monthly meeting.

At the meeting, commissioner Tara Thue noted that the board had just 15 restaurant licenses available for applicants — and would get another 30 to hand out in May, a provision of the Legislature’s annual liquor omnibus bill.

“I still view that as a place of limited licenses,” Tennert said.

Because of that scarcity, Thue said, the board will continue to require restaurants applying for liquor licenses to be “ready to operate” before the board will approve their license. That means each restaurant must have: manager training in place, with employees available to work; a business license in hand, with a certificate of occupancy; and a final inspection completed.

“It’s difficult to impose those criteria,” Tennert said, but necessary given the competition for the limited number of licenses.

Thue noted that some municipal governments won’t issue a business license until the liquor license is granted. To get around that Catch-22 situation, some restaurant liquor licenses will be approved conditionally, Thue said.

The DABS commission Thursday approved nine restaurant licenses on Thursday. They went to:

• Casa Salvaje, 645 W. 5300 South, Murray.

• Cupla Coffee, 77 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

• Kaiseki Sushi, in the Red Cliffs Mall, 1770 E. Red Cliffs Drive, St. George.

• P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, 6191 S. State St. Murray (in Fashion Place Mall).

• Real Taqueria, 1869 E. Murray-Holladay Road, Holladay.

• Senorita’s 3rd Floor Cantina, 533 S. 1750 West, Springville.

• Showdowns Restaurant, 80 S. Main St., Tropic.

• Silverside Deli, 2121 S. McClelland St., Salt Lake City.

• Under Canvas, 1325 S. Johns Valley Road, Widtsoe, near Bryce Canyon National Park.

The commission had zero full-bar licenses to hand out at Thursday’s meeting. Ten applicants are in the queue, according to the commission’s agenda, with projected opening dates from now to December.

The Legislature approved an additional 15 bar licenses as part of the omnibus bill, which takes effect Wednesday, May 3. However, the commission won’t be approving any of those new licenses before its next meeting, which is in late May.