Another Sunday morning, and there is a line out the door and deep into the garden at Sunny Point Café. It’s been like this for years for the small neighborhood brunch spot in West Asheville. But in the past, hungry and hungover breakfast seekers were required to wait until noon to find the hair of the dog as state law prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sunday mornings.
That all changed on June 29 when SB-155, also known as the Brunch Bill, breezed through the state Senate and House of Representatives in just three months. The city of Asheville took just an additional month to approve the action, and Buncombe County okayed it a couple of weeks later.
The bill tweaked a number of alcohol laws, including amendments to rules for distilleries and bottle shops, wine growler sales and refills and liquor samplings. However, most of the attention it received focused on Section 4.(a), which states that a city or county “may adopt an ordinance allowing for the sale of malt beverages, unfortified wine, fortified wine and mixed beverages beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday pursuant to the licensed premises’ permit issued under G.S. 18B-1001.” While the change was widely celebrated, there was skepticism as to just how much stimulus two hours of morning hooch sales would provide for an already booming industry.
Cue the clinking glasses of morning mimosas: “I think that brunch is an event,” says Traci Taylor, owner of Biltmore Village’s Fig Bistro. “Not to say that everyone will agree that a cocktail is what makes it — but who are we kidding? Now it seems as though the people that really want to beat the crowds and not deal with the waits can still enjoy a little adult libation and get into their favorite restaurants earlier. And I think that perk brings more people out.”
Fig hasn’t been the only business reaping the rewards of the new law. “We are a town that a lot of people come to visit,” says Sovereign Remedies owner Charlie Hodge. “And a lot of them didn’t understand why they couldn’t have a drink when they came in on Sunday morning. So this change has been great.”
Known as a cocktail haven, Sovereign Remedies used to open for brunch on Sundays at 9 a.m.. Guests would have to wait three hours before being allowed to consume the bar’s signature mixed drinks. Since the change in the law, they have moved to brunch service four days a week starting on Friday and stretching all the way to Monday.
“When this got passed, we were doing a couple days of lunch, a couple days of brunch and we asked the question, what is the difference between lunch and brunch? Booze. And what do we do really well? Booze,” says Hodge. “The fact that we can start at 10 o’clock on Sundays makes it really easy and helps keep things consistent.”
“I just wish that they had extended it to 8 a.m.,” says Sunny Point bar manager Noah Hermanson. It’s Sunny Point opens at 8 a.m., and while known for its full-pint mimosas, before passage of the Brunch Bill, guests had to wait until lunchtime to order the beverage, which is designed for morning consumption. “Being a brunch restaurant, any amount of time that we can be open to sell alcohol could only be better for us,” he says.
Hermanson says Sunny Point has observed a 7 percent increase in sales since the bill was passed — an average derived from five Sundays before the change compared with five Sundays after. He notes that is the kind of bump in business a successful restaurant might see over the course of a year. “It’s not like it is making people drink more, but because it is available to everybody, we did notice a sharp increase in sales of things beyond alcohol,” he says. “It doesn’t just increase alcohol sales, it increases all of our sales.”
Taylor concurs, noting that “two extra hours of booze sales makes it inevitable that your profits will be higher.”
Even the Alcoholic Beverage Control board reports a recent spike in sales, but it’s not as quick to credit the law. “We have had an increase in business, but I don’t think we can attribute it to the Brunch Bill,” says Asheville ABC operations manager Jason Thacker. “We have just had a lot of tourism as usual, and also the [storm and flooding] evacuees for the past few weeks.”
It’s not clear why the original law banned the sale of morning booze, save for some long-held Bible Belt leanings. But when asked if he had any concerns at the prospect of an increased number of Sunday morning revelers, Hodge says, “No more concerned than serving cocktails at 10 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday,” adding that in the morning, customers aren’t trying to tie one on. “They are on vacation. If someone comes up to Asheville for the weekend, they want to have a good time. And if you are cutting off their ability to enjoy Sunday morning waking up with food and drinks, then it kind of squanders that experience. Not that you need to drink to enjoy it, but sometimes a good bloody mary in the morning helps to squeeze out that extra few hours of vacation.”