Vassar council backs liquor license for Sambuca Café

Sambuca Cafe, 139 E. Huron Ave. in Vassar, could begin serving liquor, beer and wine after the Vassar City Council voted to recommend that the state approve a liquor license for the business. State officials still must approve issuance of the license. Council, last year, approved recommending that Riverside Grill, also a downtown Vassar eatery, receive a state liquor license. (File photo)
Sambuca Cafe, 139 E. Huron Ave. in Vassar, could begin serving liquor, beer and wine after the Vassar City Council voted to recommend that the state approve a liquor license for the business. State officials still must approve issuance of the license. Council, last year, approved recommending that Riverside Grill, also a downtown Vassar eatery, receive a state liquor license. (File photo)

Operators of Sambuca Café in downtown Vassar eventually may serve saki with their sushi, after the Vassar City Council approved recommending a state liquor license to the café last week.
If the state of Michigan approves the Class C liquor license, the café at 139 E. Huron Ave. could sell liquor, beer or wine.
“They don’t want to be a bar,” said Brian Chapman, Vassar city manager. “They just want to enhance their customer experience, so when you go into Sambuca Café for a sushi roll, maybe they offer you some saki.
“They have late-night live music there, and it’s not anything for it to be 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. at night, and the only thing they really have to offer right now would be water, or their specialty drinks, or coffee.
“At that time of night, maybe that doesn’t necessarily go over with the crowd that they’re wanting to entertain or attract in there. A glass of wine would go a little bit further than a cup of coffee would at 8 o’clock at night.”
The city council on Feb. 6 voted 4-1 — with Councilman Dan Surgent in opposition — to recommend approval of the license by the state of Michigan.
Brian Derscha, who along with his wife, Katy, owns Sambuca Café, envisions customers having “a glass of wine — some Michigan wines — or a bottle of craft beer, and maybe we might serve a martini.” The business also may serve saki, a Japanese alcoholic beverage, he said.
Council members voted to recommend issuance of a liquor license in 2016 to Riverside Grill, which — like Sambuca Café — opened that year in downtown Vassar.
Sambuca Café hosts “Open Mic Night” from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, and at times has hosted blues, rock ’n’ roll and jazz bands.
Brian Derscha said he hopes to host a “comedy night” at the café, but added “I’d like to get my liquor license first.”
The café serves sushi daily from 1 p.m. to closing time. During the winter, the eatery isn’t open Monday, but operates 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Issuance of a new liquor license within the boundaries of Vassar’s Downtown Development Authority District is possible after city council in 2012 approved a resolution allowing issuance of new liquor licenses in that district — designated a “redevelopment area” in accordance with a 2006 state law.
Chapman said in 2016 that Vassar “more or less, bottomed out (economically), so we’re trying to bring back some life.”
Seven new businesses opened last year, including several eateries, in a one-block stretch of downtown Vassar.
“A lot of this state legislation was for Detroit or Saginaw, but we’re involved, too,” Chapman said last year. “We’re trying to bring back some life, and one of the things that bring downtowns back to life is entertainment, and entertainment usually has a drink or two with it.”
On Monday, Chapman said a minimum amount of investment must be made in a downtown area for a city to qualify for the liquor licenses.
Derscha said he’s exploring the idea of creating gourmet pizza at his business, where the walls bear works done by area artists and where customers may buy items including sandwiches, salads, fresh-roasted coffee, coffee-related beverages, tea and smoothies.
On Tuesday morning, a sign outside the cafe advertised a special featuring an omelet, hash browns and coffee.
“The state recognizes downtowns are changing, and wants to encourage redevelopment, so they developed these ‘redevelopment liquor licenses,’ and as long as there is a certain amount of investment being made by private entities, or the city or the downtown development authority, you get access to these special licenses,” Chapman said.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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