A look at the cost of Topper Grill and Pub

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Jacob Dick

Lots of questions surround the recent news of Aramark’s decision to pull alcohol licensing for the Topper Grill and Pub, and only one thing is clear: establishing a restaurant as an investment isn’t so simple.

With the duty of ordering supplies, managing staff and serving customers, running a successful restaurant isn’t an easy task. Include the liabilities and nuanced policies that come with serving alcohol, and the task becomes even more difficult.

It seems the Topper Grill and Pub, with a estimated cost of $465,000, is no exception.

According to the project budget used by the department of planning, design and constriction, Business and Auxiliary Services made $479,500 available to complete the pub project. All the money was allocated from auxiliary revenue funds.

In an email, Chief Facilities Officer Bryan Russell gave a simplified explanation of what auxiliary revenue is.

“Auxiliary Revenue/Funds are generated by the sale of goods such as food, books, clothing, etc,” Russell said in an email. “WKU auxiliary is a self-supporting financial enterprise.”

Gary Meszaros, assistant vice president of Business and Auxiliary, and Jed Peterson, project manager of renovations, could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

The renovation of the Garrett Conference Center began in earnest when the planning, design and construction department awarded the project bid in October 2015.

Construction bids for the pub were solicited to four companies: J&S General Contracting, Phelps General Contracting, Sunbelt Construction and Scott, Murphy and Daniel.

According to a quotation table provided by the department, only J&S General Contracting submitted a bid for the project.

J&S General Contracting, as the only company of the four to submit a bid, proposed a $329,000 base bid with a $15,000 alternative to remove base walls and paint and to install equipment.

Upon the project’s completion, close to $385,000 was projected to be paid to J&S and three other contracting companies.

A newly renovated conference center couldn’t become a pub without some design, so nearly $23,000 was paid to Hafer Design for their services.

Hafer is an architectural design company with offices in Evansville and Owensboro. Their vision of “The Tap Room” at WKU can still be found in the work section of their website.

Nearly $27,000 was used to furnish and equip the pub with all of the style and necessities it would need to make customers comfortable.

With IT equipment costs thrown in, the final bill for the pub was projected to be $465,840.

The outcome of all this planning and work became a furnished and gleaming pub on the Hill. With a $36,659 contingency left over in the budget, the project could probably have been considered a success.

After being mostly completed this February, the only obstacle the pub faced in serving alcohol was obtaining a limited restaurant license, the cost of which is a mere $780, but it is this step in the process that separates the restaurants from the pubs.

Aramark was advised by its lawyers to pull the license request for the restaurant because of a likely low hood of approval by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Steve Hoyng told the Herald earlier this month.

It is assumed that the ABC board wasn’t pleased with the pub’s kitchen being located downstairs, but there has been no official comment from the board.

There are 84 different license types available for purchase in Kentucky, but not all licenses are available statewide. The license that the Topper Grill and Pub needed was specific to restaurants and limited the pub’s sales to 50 percent food and 50 percent alcohol.

According to the ABC board’s website, licenses can be denied for reasons of zoning, occupancy limits, food sales or prior history with licensing requests. There are also restrictions on the numbers of certain licenses in a city.

The only thing that is certain for the moment is that no matter how expensive or detailed a project is, making a pub requires navigation of all of the states varying — and sometimes contradicting — alcohol laws.

Hoyng could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

The Topper Grill and Pub is set to open its doors for dining only in the next two weeks.

The pub could be licensed in the future, but even if conditions were met, it would take between 30 and 50 days for a decision to be made by the ABC board.