Restaurants wait for shift in late-night hours licensing

The city is considering a plan to make it easier for businesses to stay open late.

Customers are asked to leave Expresso Royale  after the barista announces its 11pm closing time on March 11. The Dinkytown café is struggling with the city licensing office to change the current permit restrictions.

Customers are asked to leave Expresso Royale after the barista announces its 11pm closing time on March 11. The Dinkytown café is struggling with the city licensing office to change the current permit restrictions.

Jennifer Bissell

Tensions are rising among businesses waiting out a city transition that would help shorten the time it takes them to get permission to stay open late, even though the purpose is to make the process easier.

The proposal, which would transfer the power of approving late-night hours for businesses from the Zoning and Planning Committee to the licensing department itself, is up for Minneapolis City Council action April 1.

Lately it seems the city has been stricter about enforcing licenses and has been giving out more citations than usual, said Dinkytown Business Association President Skott Johnson.

Earlier this month, for example, Espresso Royale was cited for violating the allowed hours of operation by staying open until midnight instead of 10 p.m. without a permit. The café has operated that late for more than 20 years.

“ItâÄôs like someoneâÄôs trying to do a fundraiser,” Johnson said. “In the past couple months theyâÄôve been coming down pretty hard.”

Espresso Royale owner Dan Zielske said he was puzzled by the citation.

“I feel like we should have been grandfathered in or something,” Zielske said. “Our hours have been this way for years.”

However, while Dinkytown businesses may feel there has been an increase in licensing enforcement, license inspector Michele Olds said there has been no change.

Olds said she had simply noticed Espresso RoyaleâÄôs hours sign while doing a license renewal inspection.

“I take enforcement action evenly,” Olds said. “I donâÄôt turn a blind eye to violations.”

According to the proposal to change the permit into a license, going through the licensing department could simplify the process.

Licensing department manager Grant Wilson said he felt the department would be able to process the extended hour requests two to four weeks faster than they are now and would be able to include more input from police and the community.

The department has been trying to improve its processing dramatically in recent years. For instance, it now takes 14 days to process a new business application instead of 41 days as it was years ago, and less than a day to process trade licenses instead of six days.

“Anytime you have to go through a government system thereâÄôs a feeling that there is too much bureaucracy,” Wilson said. “But IâÄôm not so sure thatâÄôs true anymore.”

But the wait for the new license approval has caused inconveniences for both Espresso Royale and Five Guys Burgers and Fries since the city has stopped accepting any new applications during the transition.

“EverythingâÄôs in limbo right now,” Zielske said, noting heâÄôd like to return to his normal hours before the end of the semester.

Currently the café is closing an hour earlier than normal, which could affect some studentsâÄô decision to go to the café for a night of studying.

Espresso Royale manager Ellie Held said customers seemed understanding about closing early, but she had seen a lot of nighttime regulars come in during the day to ask about the change.

Five Guys manager David Anders said he too felt the wait was a hassle. The restaurant has also had to forfeit some of the application fees it paid before the city stopped approving permits.

Currently the business is trying to extend its hours to 3 a.m., Thursday through Saturday nights. It now operates until 10 p.m. every day.

“It definitely makes it harder to extend our hours,” Anders said. “ItâÄôs a lot more challenging than I think it should be.”