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Flow of alcohol could help fuel local economy

Mountaintop restaurants’ alcohol sales are low

If a restaurant wants to boost its business to be a high-traffic establishment, it needs to sell alcohol, according to Tennessee Hospitality Association CEO Greg Adkins.

“It is extremely important, to get a high-volume restaurant, for you to have liquor, beer or wine,” he said. “That’s what generally makes a restaurant profitable. Also, the profit margin is more than on food. Draft beer can bring 300 percent more profit.”

Alcohol sales on Signal Mountain, however, remain at a steady low, though some mountaintop restaurant owners seem to have found their niche in the market. Many of them, however, had to work to figure out exactly what it is that Signal residents want to drink.

“[Our beer sales are] not really high,” said Pepper Jack’s owner Stacy Skidmore, who reported last summer that her beer sales were about 10 percent of her overall sales. That hasn’t changed in the past six months of football season, she said. “A lot of families come in and they might have a beer. We have not had anybody come in and drink to the point they were drunk.”

Pepper Jack’s opened its doors in May of this year, hoping to market itself as the mountain’s new hangout with its rustic atmosphere and big-screen televisions. Skidmore said she has had to use the trial and error method with her beers, some of which she stopped offering because they don’t sell, including Budweiser. She added that she sells mainly craft beers to her customers, including Sweetwater 420, Sweet Magnolia and quite a bit of Blue Moon.

The restaurant serves beer but no wine or liquor. Skidmore said she’s had customers ask her to get a variance to sell liquor, making it a members-only restaurant, but she has no intent to do so.

“Offering liquor would help sales, but we don’t want that crowd around children; we are really catering more to the family,” she said. “We are trying to get past that stigma of being nothing but a bar.”

Nancy Adams, owner of Southern Star Take-Away and the former upscale full-service Seventeen Ninety restaurant, said beer and wine sales were a vital component to Seventeen Ninety’s overall performance before it closed after 14 months of business. Alcohol sales were averaging at 14-16 percent of her overall sales, she said. Adams added that most of her customers, however, were not mountain residents, but came on weekends from off the mountain for a nice dinner.

“We wouldn’t have made it as long as we did without the people coming from off the mountain,” she said. “We tried to give customers upscale offerings; on the wine side, a $6 glass of wine sold the most. We had a variety of craft beers and the nicer beers sold better.”

Nino Piccolo of Nino’s, formerly the Pastaria, said he strictly sticks to genuine Italian wines and imported beers to go along with his Italian cuisine, and he is happy with his alcohol sales.

“Especially since the restaurant is a prototypical Italian restaurant, everybody enjoys a glass of wine with their meal. It goes naturally with the type of food that we serve,” he said. “We sell around 20 percent of revenue on beer and wine, but we do allow people to bring their own [for a corking fee].”

Piccolo also said he could probably make more money if he sold liquor at his restaurant, but has no intent to do so at this time.

Teri Coker, accounts receivable manager of Pruett’s Market, said the grocer’s craft beer sales are booming, with craft and artisan beers flying off the shelves every day.

“I think the craft beers are so novel; people like the novelty even if they might not like the taste. The craft beer section, with a lot of their packaging, draws a lot of attention,” said Coker. “[Signal Mountain residents] entertain a lot, and having a large selection to choose from ups their game.”

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