Applebee's makes its sales pitch to Port Lavaca voters

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

Oct. 16, 2013 at 5:16 a.m.
Updated Oct. 17, 2013 at 5:17 a.m.

PORT LAVACA - Applebee's officials on Wednesday told Port Lavaca residents that the casual family restaurant is the next needed ingredient in a growing community.

They were also there to answer objections about extending the city's drinking hours to 2 a.m. - a plan that is opposed by some residents. But no one at the meeting objected.

"You've got everything you need in town - lots of fast food," said Liza Hogue, a real estate consultant for Applebee's. "But you need a nice restaurant where you can take your family, have a nice dinner, have a drink if you want one and enjoy the atmosphere."

About 25 residents attended the meeting at the Bauer Community Center where Hogue and Matthew Davis, construction and facilities manager for the national chain, answered questions.

"The late-night hours are for nurses who get off at midnight, truck drivers who want to sit down for a nice meal," Hogue said. "Lots of people work late-night shifts here, and they have a right to eat. If it's 1 a.m., so be it."

Applebee's purchased the land between Walgreens and O'Reilly Auto Parts on state Highway 35 when City Council members approved the ordinance in April to extend the drinking hours.

In July, a petition suspended that ordinance until Nov. 5, when residents will vote on the issue.

About 6,500 Port Lavaca residents are registered to vote, said Dora Garcia, Calhoun County Elections Administrator. She said she hopes at least half will show up at the polls.

Of the 12,500 registered voters in Calhoun County, almost 40 percent voted in the last presidential election, she said.

Port Lavaca City Manager Bob Turner is an avid supporter of extending the hours to attract national chain businesses.

"Just because people can drink after midnight doesn't mean they will," Turner said. "And it doesn't mean it's a low-class, seedy bar."

Mike Gresham, pastor at First Baptist Church in Port Lavaca, said he likes Applebee's but doesn't want extended hours.

"It's harmful to the community, especially for families already dealing with drinking problems," said Gresham, who did not attend the meeting.

If constructed, the 4,400-square-foot restaurant in Port Lavaca would be another prototype built by SSCP Management. The restaurant would feature a patio, seat 150 diners and supply more than 100 jobs, Hogue said.

"It would be under construction right now if some petition hadn't got going," Hogue said.

Applebee's insists on the extended drinking hours for sales and consistency in advertising, Hogue said.

Sales between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. account for 5 percent of the company's business, she said. Overall, alcohol accounts for less than 20 percent of Applebee's business and even less in smaller towns.

If voters do not support the ordinance Nov. 5, Applebee's will not build, Hogue said.

"This is not meant to make anyone mad," Hogue said. "If you don't want to be out 'til 2, stay home. If you don't like to drink alcohol, don't drink it."

SSCP Management Inc. in Dallas owns 67 Applebee's restaurants in Texas. Nine of those were built in the past three years while the rest were purchased, Hogue said.

Some of the existing restaurants were in towns that did not allow late-night drinking. Seven of those towns, including Corsicana, Hillsboro, Canton and Saginaw, passed ordinances to extend the hours to 2 a.m. The others maintained their hours.

Last year, Applebee's executives met similar obstacles when they wanted to open a restaurant in Gun Barrel City, population 7,000. The town's city council members approved the ordinance to extend drinking hours, which the mayor vetoed.

When council members overrode the mayor's veto in a 5-0 vote, the mayor solicited signatures for a petition that suspended the ordinance until a November vote.

Voters overwhelmingly supported the ordinance in a citywide special election, said Gerry Boren, the city manager of Gun Barrel City.

None of the other restaurants and bars in town chose to extend their hours.

"We're a small town, and it puts money in our pockets," Boren said. "The police chief said it was not an issue."

Applebee's breaks ground next year in Gun Barrel City.

Earlier this year, Nacogdoches chose not to extend its drinking hours when approached by Applebee's, said City Manager Jim Jeffers.

"We were in negotiations, and they sprung the 2 a.m. extension in the 24th hour," Jeffers said.

Discussions started behind closed doors, but Applebee's took the issue public, Jeffers said.

"It was a little unorthodox," Jeffers said. "In 40 years, it was the first time a prospect conducted business that way."

City council members voted against the ordinance 4-1 because they thought extending drinking hours in a college town was a bad idea.

"Applebee's is welcome, that's not the issue," Jeffers said. "It's the extended drinking hours."



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