Pitman restaurant to sell wine legally for first time in 110 years

PITMAN — A borough cafe has become the first business to legally sell alcohol in the town’s entire 110-year history.

“I sold my first bottle on Thursday,” said Vic Martinson, owner of the Bus Stop Music Cafe on South Broadway. Martinson now offers his customers bottles of wine from Auburn Road Vineyard in Pilesgrove.

“I’m a small business. This gives me another tool to stay open.”

Pitman does not issue liquor licenses, and the cafe will not operate as a bar. Martinson got permission from the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to act as an “outlet” for Auburn Road after the vineyard petitioned the state to designate retail outlets for its wines. Wineries in the state have permission to designate other businesses as distributors of their products, which means Bus Stop can only offer Auburn’s wines. The cafe can, however, uncork and serve the wine to patrons as well as sell bottles to walk-in customers.

Up the street, Venice Italian Eatery hopes to work with Atco’s Amalthea Cellars to set up a similar deal.

“That’ll help us a lot,” said Ron Zold, owner of Venice and president of Pitman’s Chamber of Commerce. “If you sell 30 bottles a month, that’ll pay half your water bill.”

The policy has been several years in the making. Zold said the chamber first approached local wineries several years ago with plans of imitating the success of dry towns like Collingswood.

Pitman has had a BYOB policy in its restaurants for years. Last year, BYOB was expanded to include outdoor service at restaurants with sidewalk seating.

“Everybody’s already bringing their own stuff,” said Martinson. “I have to buy glasses, wash them, replace them when they break. Now I have a chance to make some money.”

To sell the wine, however, applicants must go to the state, rather than the municipality. Pitman has no ordinances that allow businesses to sell alcohol.

“There is no application to the municipality, although the ABC does notify the municipality. I’m not even sure we can deny [a restaurant’s permission to serve wine],” said Police Chief Robert Zimmerman. A motion to bring liquor licenses to town failed several years ago.

“Historically the town has been dry,” Zimmerman said. “There were strong feelings in both directions.”

The chief also said the town had “no say” in the state’s decision. That doesn’t mean officials were opposed, though.

“First off I’m happy for Bus Stop that they have another tool to do well in this economy,” said Mayor Russ Johnson.

The only way to stop the sale of wine would have been to eliminate BYOB altogether, and no one on council felt strongly enough about the issue to take it that far.

“The winery’s license is completely out of municipal control,” Johnson said. “We had a meeting at council about it and were advised there was nothing to do even if we didn’t support it, which I personally did. We left it alone and it happened. I hope other restaurants do it too.”

Although wine may soon be available at several spots on Broadway — at least two other restaurants have expressed interest — these businesses won’t be acting as liquor stores. Only beer and wine are permitted under the BYOB policy, and so far, wine is the only alcoholic beverage Bus Stop offers. Furthermore, only restaurants are allowed to participate, as emphasized by the police department. Strict enforcement of the borough’s BYOB ordinances will remain in effect, Zimmerman said.

Zold and Martinson said they had not met any residents who were against the idea.

“It’s something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” said Zold. “But I’m pleased.”

Auburn Road winery could not be reached for comment.

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