In Santa Clara, Utah, the kingdom of God lost.
Despite opposition from the LDS Church, a Washington County restaurant on Tuesday received a wine and beer permit from the state liquor commission.
Wayne Johnson and Patricia Nevot Johnson, owners of The Granary Cafe, a French-inspired restaurant in Santa Clara, west of St. George, had requested a limited-service restaurant liquor license from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC). The license would allow customers to order wine or beer with their food.
Because the restaurant is within 600 feet of a church — in this case, a Mormon stake center — state law required the business to apply for a variance from the city and the DABC before being allowed to serve alcohol.
Both entities recently held hearings to get public comment and found mixed support.
While officials from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposed the liquor request, as did several residents, the Santa Clara City Council approved the variance.
At the DABC public hearing earlier this month, “there were about 45 people who attended the hearing and the majority were against the idea of having a liquor license at The Granary,” compliance officer Dan Oberg told the commission Tuesday. The DABC received more than 130 emails from people in favor of the permit.
Washington County is one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation, and as more people move in from other states, they find it difficult to buy liquor in the way they are accustomed, Wayne Johnson told the commission. “There is nowhere in Santa Clara where someone who so desires can get a glass of wine with a meal.”
The unmet need was a persuasive argument, and the liquor commission approved the variance and liquor permit unanimously.
“A couple things we have to consider when granting variances is unmet need,” commission Chairman John T. Nielsen said. “Are there no other liquor outlets and no other viable alternative?”
After the meeting, the Johnsons said they don’t feel like they “beat the church.”
“We feel like the commission listened and took into consideration our location and need,” said Wayne Johnson. “They did the right thing.”
Ironically, the building that houses The Granary Cafe was built in the 1860s on the orders of Mormon church President Brigham Young. It served as a Mormon tithing granary and later as Washington County’s first winery before falling into disrepair.
Over the past few years, the Johnsons have paid to restore the building’s original brick interior and added gardens and fountains for outdoor concerts and community events. They leased the building to another restaurant owner for several years before taking over in 2014 and creating their cafe and bakery.
While the LDS Church may have lost in Santa Clara, it won a similar liquor fight in Ogden.
Even Stevens, a popular sandwich restaurant in Salt Lake City, had requested a limited-service liquor license for a new store in Ogden, within 600 feet of the Ogden LDS Temple. The neighborhood already has more than two dozen liquor outlets.
“There are plenty of liquor outlets in one form or another within a short distance,” Nielsen said.
“The requirement of an unmet need doesn’t seem to be there,” he added.
For that reason, the commission denied that variance request.