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Eliott Ness is Alive and Well and Living in Cherry Hill
By Bob Bradley

“All I ever did was supply a demand that was pretty popular”
         - Al Capone

There is something terribly wrong in the State of New Jersey when outdated laws make it difficult if not impossible to operate a profitable independent restaurant. It’s basically a program designed to encourage the proliferation of chain restaurants at the expense of the quality independent operators. It’s all about greed and politics, and the citizens of the Garden State should be outraged.

There is a new group of independent restaurants in South Jersey that joined forces to basically help each other, and to pool their resources to promote the concept of dining locally and supporting the local independent restaurant community. The group consists of nineteen restaurants, which are arguably the best restaurants in this marketplace – www.sjhotchefs.com

It is interesting to note that only four of their members own a liquor license (one is in a hotel and the other three obtained their license years ago) which means that fifteen are of the “bring your own bottle” variety, and in New Jersey, this means only wine and beer and no corkage fees.

This past week, a liquor license in this area was sold for $702,000, and now we realize why so few of their members can afford to compete in the real restaurant world. BYOB is terrific, but how many restaurants can make it without the ability to sell alcohol, and please name me the quality restaurants that can fork out this kind of money for something so vital to their business.

A South Jersey resident can get to downtown Philadelphia in approximately three minutes, and while Pennsylvania will continue forever with their archaic system of State Stores, a liquor license for a restaurant is affordable and easily accessible. So Philadelphia is filled with talented chefs running wonderful restaurants. South Jersey has a handful of talented chefs running mostly BYOB establishments. And while the State of New Jersey worries about collecting their tax revenue, their citizens are traveling in droves to another State to spend their money. In fairness however, the citizens of Pennsylvania travel to New Jersey to avoid the higher prices at the State Stores, so all is not lost, and the insanity exists on both sides of the river.

The local South Jersey municipalities collect their $700,000 and could care less about the quality of their restaurants as long as the money keeps flowing in. And worst of all, those young, talented culinary school graduates hoping to become another Daniel Boulud or a Charlie Trotter avoid places like South Jersey.

The State has succeeded in discouraging quality when it comes to restaurants, and would someone alert the folks in Trenton that it’s 2005 and Prohibition is officially over and that Woodrow Wilson is out of the White House. We all know that greed and politics are powerful forces, so don’t look for changes in this regressive system anytime soon. By the way, it is illegal to purchase wine over the internet in New Jersey although they do allow doggie bags for unused wine in the BYOB establishments as long as you place the bag in your trunk (the system is not all bad).

Thankfully, there are some great chefs who have elected to do great things in this area of the world. There are about 19 of them.


Bob Bradley is an editorial contributor to Restaurant Report. Bob can be reached at bob@restaurantreport.com.




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