By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Canadian County restaurant owners – along with many local leaders and residents – want voters to decide whether the county’s 38-year-old Sunday alcoholic beverage sales restriction should be removed.
Since 1985, the sale of liquor by the drink before 2 p.m. on Sunday has been prohibited in Canadian County.
Several dozen people attended the Feb. 6th Canadian County Commissioners meeting, with everyone who spoke publicly voicing support for changing the county’s liquor rule to match Oklahoma state law.
That would allow Canadian County restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks with their brunch and lunch menus starting four hours earlier – at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Mustang’s David Russell said he’s an advocate for business development – specifically new restaurants – in his hometown. He called restaurants the “hub” of local communities.
“Working with these developers it’s become clear we have some restrictive governance laws regarding alcoholic beverage by the glass in Canadian County,” Russell said. “They were put in place in 1985 by this Board of County Commissioners, in addition to the existing state laws at the time.
“As we’ve been trying to bring new businesses into our communities, many of them operate on a business model that involves the Sunday brunch, where they have Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s available with breakfast. In Canadian County, we have a restriction against that until 2 p.m. on Sundays. These restaurants are moving their developments into Oklahoma County, just a couple of miles down the road.”
Canadian County communities are losing out on new business opportunities by not permitting Sunday liquor sales before 2 p.m., Russell told the county commissioners.
“I now see that as a hindrance to all of Canadian County,” he added, imploring commissioners to help “level the playing field.”
Russell estimated annual lost business revenues totaling more than $1.5 million based on the approximate 50 existing restaurants in Canadian County that have alcoholic beverage licenses.
“Our county and our communities are losing out on sales tax dollars, liquor tax dollars and then even property tax money based on those restaurants,” he said. “So, it’s a significant financial impact to our local communities and to our county to have this restriction that’s forcing businesses into the surrounding communities and out of our own.”
Besides the added tax dollars, Russell said Canadian County communities need more restaurants that provide quality jobs for local youth.
Canadian is one of only a few counties that still have the 2 p.m. Sunday alcohol rule after several other counties removed the prohibition in recent elections.
‘LET THE PEOPLE SPEAK’
Yukon’s Nathan Cross, manager of Grady’s 66 Pub in Yukon, referred to a 2020 effort to change Canadian County’s Sunday liquor law.
Not enough signatures were gathered on an initiative petition circulated that year, so proponents are now asking county commissioners to call an election so voters may decide the issue.
Cross believes his business and “all of Canadian County” are losing significant revenue and sales tax income with the current Sunday sales restriction.
“We just want to put it on a ballot and let the people speak,” Cross said. “I think it will pass. I think we’re losing money to other counties.
“We were a ‘beer bar only’ up until 2018 when the (state liquor) laws changed. We are able to open on Sunday mornings without any restrictions. Now, with football games starting at noon, people are leaving, going into Oklahoma County and watching games. They don’t come back to Yukon.”
Eastern Canadian County resident James Como is operations director at Urban Management, which operates the Interurban restaurant at Mustang Road and Reno.
“We also have a brunch concept we’ve considered bringing to the Mustang area,” Como said. “One of the hindrances is, a large portion of our business is done on Sunday – probably about 35% of our sales is Sundays alone.
“A big part of that is offering Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and cocktails to go with the brunch experience.”
Urban Management officials have found that many residents – particularly in the Yukon/Mustang area, will drive into Oklahoma County to patronize the company’s restaurants there so they can have their Sunday brunch drinks.
Prohibiting liquor drink sales before 2 p.m. Sunday is a “hindrance” to bringing new business to Canadian County, Como noted.
“We would benefit from lifting these restrictions and allowing businesses to grow and thrive in Canadian County,” he said.
Mustang’s Travis Clark, owner of Clark Crew BBQ, also owns 34 sports bars on the east coast. He plans to open two or three sports bars here in the next two years.
“I’m going to spend $2.5-$3 million to build one,” Clark said. “Why would I cap myself to six days a week? A sports bar, one of our biggest days is Sunday (with) people wanting to watch football.”
Alcohol sales are 24.4% of his sports bars’ Sunday business.
Clark wants to open one in Mustang, Canadian County where his family lives.
“It’s not just the alcohol sales, it’s the food,” Clark pointed out. “When I have games that start at 11 a.m. out here and pay-per-view events, it just doesn’t make sense to put it in a county where I restrict my sales.
“That law restricts it all – alcohol and food revenue.”
Erich Jacoby, general manager of The Lokal in Yukon and Mustang, concurred with Clark.
“It’s not necessarily just the alcohol, it’s the food as well,” Jacoby said. “People go to Oklahoma City (in Oklahoma County) on Sundays to eat. At 2 o’clock, they stay there, so you’re losing all that in alcohol and food sales.”
Brant Norwood, proprietor and general manager of Louie’s Grill & Bar, said his business has been in Yukon for 13 years and “loves” the community.
“We would love to have this old law abolished,” Norwood said. “It would benefit the community and the county by doing so. We are losing tons of revenue … I probably lose $200 to $300 every Sunday because of this law.
“It doesn’t sound like much. But over time, it adds up.”
Rick Haynes, owner of Pauline’s Southern Kitchen and Johnnie’s Charcoal Broiler in Yukon, said brunch is probably the fastest-growing part of the restaurant industry.
Haynes told county commissioners that having Sunday liquor sales before 2 p.m. “would really increase our businesses.”
‘SHOP LOCAL … DRINK LOCAL’
Several people not associated with restaurants also spoke in favor of eliminating the Sunday prohibition in Canadian County.
El Reno’s Marie Hirst, the Canadian County court clerk, believes the change would help attract more businesses to her city.
“I go to Yukon a lot to eat because there aren’t restaurants here in El Reno that are ‘high-end’,” Hirst said. “I fix breakfast every day at home. It would really be nice to go have brunch.
“I think a lot of El Reno people would probably go to Yukon, or Mustang, instead of driving all the way to (Oklahoma County) based on this law being repealed. It would help out all the communities and maybe bring more towards El Reno too and help our county seat.”
Also addressing Canadian County Commissioners was Yukon’s Pam Shelton, the CEO of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
“I just want everybody to shop local and stay local – and drink local,” Shelton said. “That’s my opinion, and I have a lot of restaurants and a lot of businesses in Yukon.”
Julie Steele, community development director for the City of Piedmont, shared her city’s support for changing Canadian County’s restrictive Sunday liquor law.
“We hope it will help our proposed businesses wanting to move in the city, and it will help our existing businesses be able to offer things that they can’t right now,” Steele said.
Yukon’s Ross Bridwell agreed it’s time for Canadian County to amend its Sunday alcohol laws.
“I do enjoy having a drink at brunch on a Sunday,” Bridwell said. “We will drive to Oklahoma City to eat, even if I’m not the one that’s partaking in the drinking. If I’m just eating.”