Opening stirs debate about N.J.’s liquor laws

Meg Fry//October 6, 2014//

Opening stirs debate about N.J.’s liquor laws

Meg Fry//October 6, 2014//

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Bringing a mansion into modern times wasn’t the only obstacle Chris Cannon faced when he began transforming the Vail Mansion in Morristown into his latest restaurant.

Securing a liquor license in New Jersey was a dilemma Cannon never expected to encounter.

“The liquor license system in New Jersey is a protectionist system which basically hinders the industry from improving — there’s not a lot of ability to have any kind of fluidity for people wanting to start a business,” Cannon said.

RELATED: Ready for a grand unveiling: Noted restauranteur Cannon brings fine dining experience inside Morristown landmark

According to Cannon, New Jersey requires restaurateurs to purchase existing licenses, presenting a barrier to entry for people outside the state or even within the state to open a new business.

“In some towns, it’s $1 million for a license — in Manhattan, you can get a license for $6,000 — so no one wants to leave Manhattan to come to New Jersey to open a restaurant,” Cannon said.

Though it’s no longer in his self-interest — Cannon fought tooth-and-nail to successfully secure a license — he has become a strong advocate for improving the restaurant industry as one of the largest employers in the state.

“The timing right now is perfect for rethinking the whole system,” Cannon said.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) agrees.

He is currently drafting a bill to update the state’s liquor laws in an effort to spur continued economic development, claiming the legislation would also address ways to protect and compensate current license holders who are concerned that new laws would devalue their licenses.

Cannon said doing so would bring a lot more restaurateurs across the river.

“(The) cost of real estate in New York has become so prohibitively expensive that you virtually can’t make a profit in Manhattan anymore,” he said. “That’s all the more reason why they should change the laws in New Jersey — there are a lot of chefs and restaurateurs that would prefer to work here, but because of the system they go to (other states).”

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