The end of Prohibition- Florida Style
72 years late but what's the saying? Better late than never.
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NAVARRE · For years, restaurant owner Rick Latour has served his special blackened seafood alfredo at the East Bay Crab House without an accompanying glass of white wine. Latour is celebrating because he'll soon be offering the dish as it was meant be, with wine on the side.
Grocery stores and some restaurants in Santa Rosa County can start selling wine as early as this week after a three-month waiting period expired for legal challenges to the Sept. 6 referendum approving the sales in the county.
Santa Rosa County was one of the last places in Florida where such sales were banned.
"People want a nice glass of wine with their dinner. It's real important in this business," said Latour, who planned a Thursday trip to Pensacola to check the status of his alcohol permit. He has already hired a bartender for the change.
Joan Scolarici, a transplanted New Yorker who has lived in Gulf Breeze for 31 years, was among the many customers who bought wine at Gulf Breeze Winn-Dixie on Wednesday when the store debuted its wine aisle.
"Finally, we don't have to drink the iced tea anymore," she said. "My husband, he likes a drink with his meal. I've never seen any harm in it. We're Italian. I never heard of the term `dry county' until we moved down here."
September's vote legalizing wine and liquor sales in Santa Rosa County was the eighth try since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Winn-Dixie Manager Stephen Nolan said the store could not legally stock the aisle until it opened at 7 a.m. Customers purchased wine throughout the day as wine displays went up and shelves were filled.
"It's great because this is just in time for the holidays. I've told my customers that we can order special bottles and have them here in three days. It's a different thing for us," said Nolan, who anticipates his Winn-Dixie could have an adjoining liquor store next year if a permit goes through.
Very few restaurants had their applications processed in time to receive temporary permits to begin selling mixed drinks and wine this week, said Debi Pender, deputy director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. Her records showed four with pending applications for temporary permits.
"These people were probably on the ball and wanted to have things signed and ready to go on the first day. But based on the number of phone calls we've received and the level of interest we've had, I would guess there will be many, many more," she said.
The Texas Roadhouse in Milton was among the few restaurants that had a permit to serve mixed drinks and alcohol. A manager said the restaurant will begin its bar operations Wednesday night, but he didn't want to discuss the change because the restaurant has been boycotted by local churches opposed to the change. Ollie's Neighborhood Grill down the street also wanted to keep quiet about its decision to offer mixed drinks.
William Beech, manager of the Winn-Dixie in Pace, was eager to talk about his 40-foot wine aisle that was a day away from being stocked.
"I think this is going to be great. It is going to help keep sales in our county and keep our people from going over the bridge," he said, referring to wet Escambia County.
Beech predicted the change would help bring new restaurants to the fast-growing area.