West U Residents Raise Questions About Matthew’s Market Operating Without A Liquor License

August 11, 2010


Many West U residents have raised questions regarding how Matthew’s Market, 3630 University Blvd., can give away alcohol without a liquor license.

The discussion started on InstantNewsWestU after city council approved an ordinance to allow the consumption and sale of alcohol at the recreation center for the Harris County Mayors and Councils Association meeting on Aug. 19. To read the city council story, click here.

Many of the comments on InstantNewsWestU led to questions being raised about Matthew’s Market reportedly giving alcohol away for a “donation.” These are some of the comments that were made:

“Matthew’s Market is a great establishment that my wife and I and daughter have really enjoyed. I just do not understand when on the one hand, Jim Reid has created an extremely kid friendly etablishment, but on the other he feels he must have alcohol for a “donation”.

“Did West University grant Matthew’s Market a waiver to distribute free alcohol within the allotted distance to a school [MM is about 30 – 40 feet away from HISD property] and if so when? Is MM (still) asking for donations, and if so does this go against the TABC’s provision, below?

“Don’t even get me started on the “donation”; the TABC likely would not approve of the donation request.”

The questions were directed to Mayor Bob Kelly who posted this comment on InstantNewsWestU:

“The City Attorney will address at the Council meeting August 9th your questions about wine being at MM. Please sign up at the meeting to speak and ask your questions to the entire Council.”

Following Kelly’s comment addressing resident’s concerns about Matthew’s Market, he posted this comment:

“I have been informed that the Little Mat alcohol matter will not be on the agenda for August 9th, but will be a separate agenda later when and if Little Mat applies for an alcohol permit. As such, citizens can make comments to Council Members about the topic, but Council will not be able to respond. Any questions regarding MM and alcohol can be addressed now to the City Manager for comment.”

Matthew’s Market has not applied for an alcohol permit with the city, City Manager Michael Ross said.

Laws regarding alcohol within 300 feet of the elementary school do not apply to Matthew’s Market because they do not have a liquor license, Ross said.

They would need an alcohol variance approved by council if they had an alcohol permit, he said.

Owner Jim Reid did not return messages seeking comment, but InstantNewsWestU will update this story if he does.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission addresses the issue of giving away alcohol without a permit on its website. This is what the TABC states:

“It is legal to provide free alcoholic beverages without a permit. However, to be truly “free,” it must be available to any adult who walks in the door and requests it. If alcoholic beverages are only available to paying customers, the assumption is that the cost of the alcohol is included in the price of the service. This constitutes a sale of alcoholic beverages, and a TABC permit would be required. When you provide the alcoholic beverage, there cannot be any expectation of receiving money. You cannot ask for a “donation” or “tip.” If the drinks will only be available to paying guests, then you will need a permit.

“Some examples: A wedding reception with free drinks is really free. A boutique that serves free wine while you shop, even if you don’t buy anything, is really free. A nail salon with a “free” drink when you pay for a manicure is not really free. If you buy tickets to attend a charity ball and they serve “free” drinks, those are not really free. If a tip jar sits next to a keg of beer expecting “donations,” the beer would not be considered free.”

InstantNewsWestU looked into Matthew’s Market giving away margaritas for a donation, but didn’t see a sign or jar indicating a “tip” or “donation” requirement.

The margarita machine sits behind the counter of Matthew’s Market and is not self serve.

Lt. Marc Decatur with the TABC said the law does not require businesses to disclose whether or not something is free.

“If it’s truly free, anyone could come and get one,” he said.

Decatur said oftentimes restaurants will give away alcohol for free when they first open because their license or permit may not be done in time. Restaurants often have alcohol included in their business plan and use free alcohol as a business strategy to bring in customers, he said.

Most people don’t think about whether or not a restaurant has an alcohol permit because as part of our culture “we all expect to drink our beer or wine or whatever with our meal,” Decatur said.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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