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Restaurateur wants change in Grayson's liquor laws

GRAYSON - For two years restaurant owner Kelly Clark has worked to bring liquor by the drink to this small town of roughly 1,200 split by Ga. Highway 20.

He says he needs the ability to pour margaritas and bloody mary's at his Sydney's Steakhouse & Grille so he can compete with eating establishments in surrounding areas that allow mixed-drink sales.

His efforts began after voters in neighboring Snellville approved liquor by the drink in 2004, but he says they have assumed a sense of urgency because of a new open-air shopping mall about to open three miles away.

When the development opens this summer at Ga. Highway 124 and Webb Gin House Road, it will have dozens of shops and a host of restaurants that, because of their location in the unincorporated county, will be able to pour liquor.

Clark says he lost business after Snellville restaurants began serving mixed drinks, and he fears it will happen again with the new development - but much worse - if he, too, can't accommodate diners looking for a drink with their steak.

"It has given it a higher sense of urgency," said Clark, who lives on Webb Gin House Road near the shopping mall being built by Atlanta-based Cousins Properties.

"They'll have 10 or 11 restaurants there, which can be 1,500 more dining seats within a three-mile radius of me. It will be significant."

Cousins has not announced tenants for the retail center it has dubbed the Avenue Webb Gin, or how many restaurants it will have.

Grayson already allows beer and wine sales, but the City Council has declined to initiate a public referendum on liquor by the drink.

However, Clark has collected about 300 signatures on a petition - nearly enough to force a referendum under state law.

Mayor Jim Hinkle, who frequents Clark's restaurant for lunch and favors its steak sandwich, said the council doesn't want to be the one to cause a liquor

referendum.

"Our position was if somebody circulated a petition and gets a majority of signatures, we will be happy to put it on the ballot, which we're required to do by law," Hinkle said.

"The Council had indicated they will not take the lead and put it on the ballot. We wanted to see what kind of indication there is in the community to go about doing that."

Based on his efforts, which include knocking on doors to get signatures, Clark thinks there is enough public support for liquor by the drink.

Hinkle said some will oppose liquor sales on moral grounds.

"When I came here Snellville didn't have it, and when Snellville got it, it changed the dynamics of my business," Clark said. "Now people have more choices."