Borough Council Hears Liquor License Transfer Proposal For Former Spats Location
The State College Borough Council discussed the transfer of a liquor license to a planned new restaurant that would occupy the former location of Spats at its bi-weekly meeting Monday.
Martin Gillespie — a Penn State alumnus and former orthopedic surgeon who grew up in State College — presented his plans for a restaurant featuring New Zealand cuisine to Council alongside his wife and State College native Deanna Vonada Gillespie.
Gillespie is the co-founder of five San Diego New Zealand restaurants operated under the Queenstown Public House brand. He called the potential restaurant deal a “great opportunity to bring a nice facility to State College.”
The official request was submitted by Gillespie’s firm AKE Enterprise, Inc., and appealed for the transfer of a liquor license currently held in College Township to 138 and 142 East College Ave. and 114 South Pugh Street. These establishments are located in a building owned by the Herlocher family and that also houses Doggie’s Pub.
As part of the move, The Clothesline will relocate a few doors down College to the former site of Apple Tree.
Monday’s meeting began with a presentation from Assistant Borough Manager of Public Safety Tom King on the municipal staff’s interpretation of the approval. He included a review of State College’s current alcohol economy, noting that the Borough currently holds 36 percent more restaurant liquor licenses than the allowed quota under Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board standards.
King continued to present statistics that charted alcohol-related crimes and health risks. Among them was a graph that indicated that 691 Penn State students visited the Mount Nittany Medical Center Emergency Room to be treated for “alcohol overdose” in the 2017-18 school year.
Citing these statistics, King presented the staff’s recommendations for restrictions placed on the transferred license. These restrictions, established through legal agreement, aim to preserve the enterprise as a restaurant, meaning a specific percentage of its revenue is generated from food sales instead of alcohol. The conditions also limited the holder’s ability to transfer the license. Several licensed restaurants in State College, including Faccia Luna and Sheetz, have entered similar agreements that King called “more restrictive” than the proposed transfer deal.
Borough members expressed reluctance to grant the transfer in consideration of what council member Janet Engeman called “a serious binge drinking problem” among residents. Others worried that the space could turn into a bar if the restaurant venture was unsuccessful.
But the council recognized a need for something different among State College’s downtown eateries. “We need a real restaurant,” said council member Theresa Lafer.
Gillespie, his pre-appointed assistant restaurant manager Cole Ghidella, and attorney Ellen Freeman then presented to Council on the plans for the restaurant. They outlined intentions to conduct extensive renovations that would include significantly more window seating and two outdoor decks.
Gillespie said that New Zealand cuisine is “similar to American food, but it has a lot of different sauces.”
Ghidella added that the restaurant would serve breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. He showed pictures of menu items, emphasizing its focus on organic, grass-fed beef and lamb. Ghidella indicated that the restaurant would hire students as staff and managerial interns. Gillespie also clarified staff would complete Responsible Alcohol Management Program (RAMP) training.
Gillespie questioned the need for restrictive sales agreements, claiming that liability insurance already requires certain food to alcohol sales ratios in order to maintain restaurant-level premiums.
The 56-year-old maintained his goal to own a restaurant, not a bar, in downtown State College, claiming that he has “no desire to deal with those headaches.”
“This is my swan song,” he said.
Lafer criticized the trio’s comparison of State College to San Diego, but when the floor was opened for public comment, numerous local residents approached Council and primarily expressed support for the transfer.
Council has until July 15 to produce a ruling on the transfer of the license, and will revisit the matter during next Monday’s work session.
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