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Hector's wants longer exemption

Owner says smoking ban killing eatery

By Janice Kayser
Staff Writer
Posted: Jan. 16, 2008

Rob Messinger said he is asking for a "stay of execution."

Messinger, owner of Hector's, A Mexican Restaurant at 7118 W. State St., this week asked the city to extend the July 1 sunset clause on hardship exemptions to the "smoke-free" restaurant ordinance enacted by the city of Wauwatosa in 2006.

Hector's was one of at least three restaurants that previously asked for and received exemptions because they were able to show they suffered financially because of the ordinance. The other restaurants include Biggs Roadhouse, 1900 N. Mayfair Road, and Open Hearth Restaurant, 2930 N. 117th St.

Over a period of more than a year, Messinger showed revenue losses for Hector's of more than $75,000. He said this week, however, the losses were much higher than that if he includes the refinancing he had to do to save his 18-year-old State Street restaurant.

"We almost went under," he said "We are just starting to get our head above water and that July 1 date is coming. I am just looking for a stay of execution."

The ban, passed by the Common Council in 2003 but not implemented until July 1, 2006, affected businesses with more than 50 percent of revenue in food sales.

Establishments such as Aliotto's and Bjonda's, now called the Firefly Grill, were able to get around the ordinance because the bar areas, where smoking is allowed, are separated from the dining areas by walls and doors. Hector's, a small eatery with a walk-through bar, is too small, Messinger said, to remodel to separate the dining and bar areas.

"This was really a Hector's ordinance because I was the only one on State Street affected by it," Messinger said. "Leff's serves food but not 50 percent of its sales; same with Colonel Harts. And the Chancery has a separate bar room from the dining area.

"So, this really just hit me and hit me hard."

Statewide ban anticipated

Messinger said he hopes a statewide restaurant smoking ban being discussed by the Legislature will pass by 2009 because it would "level the playing field."

"I want to ask the council to wait until the state enacts the ban in January 2009," he said. "Because if they don't wait, I truly don't believe I will be able to survive the six months from July to January 2009. Rather than put me in a position where I have to remodel the restaurant or close it, why not extend the clause and let's see what the state does?"

Biggs Roadhouse faces the same July deadline. Owner Elias Pagoudis, however, said he prepared by focusing on the bar business, which now generates more than 50 percent of Biggs' revenue.

"We have an expanded drink menu, a $2 happy hour, 27 kinds of wine and much more," he said. "We have been increasing the alcohol business so we could get the bar exemption to the smoking ban.

"Personally, though I am not a smoker, I never agreed with the ban. … I hope they do pass a statewide ban so it makes it fair for everyone."

Extension opponent emerges

Messinger's request for an extension of the hardship exemption has been referred to the Community Development Committee, which meets Tuesday, Jan. 29.

City Attorney Alan Kesner said it is possible for the council to change the ordinance or extend the sunset clause with a majority vote.

City nurse Lori Nielsen saidthe health department will oppose extending the sunset clause. She said there is no research showing the financial hardship is directly related to the smoking ban.

Janice Kayser can be reached at jkayser@cninow.com or (262) 446-6608

At a glance

WHAT: Hector's, A Mexican Restaurant has asked the city to extend the July 1, 2008 sunset clause on the hardship exemptions granted to restaurants because of loss of revenue from the city's smoke-free restaurant ordinance. The Community Development

Committee might address the request at its next meeting.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29

WHERE: Wauwatosa City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

WHO: Call the city clerk's office at (414) 479-8917 after 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, to confirm the request is on the Jan. 29 agenda.

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