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By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
GRANITE QUARRY – Having a Mexican restaurant has always been Roberta Stogner’s dream. But having one that can’t serve margaritas, a
Mexican restaurant’s signature drink, is closer to a nightmare.
Franco Canales, one of Stogner’s employees at El Acapulco, probably puts it best.
“It’s like Starbucks without coffee,” he says.
El Acapulco can’t serve margaritas because Granite Quarry doesn’t allow mixed-drink sales within the town limits. That could
change, depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s special liquor-by-the-drink referendum in Granite Quarry.
A “for” vote is so important for El Acapulco that Jeff Stogner, Roberta’s husband and co-owner with her, asked for the special
referendum and put up $1,800 toward the election costs.
“A lot of people ask for the margaritas,” Roberta Stogner says, acknowledging she loses some customers to Mexican restaurants in nearby
Salisbury, which can offer the drink.
Granite Quarry’s lone voting place – the poll at town hall on North Salisbury Avenue – will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday. The mixed-beverage question is the only item on the ballot.
As of Thursday, 23 residents had voted early at the Rowan County Board of Elections. The town has 2,037 registered voters.
Six municipalities in Rowan County allow mixed-drink sales: Salisbury, East Spencer, Kannapolis, Spencer, China Grove and Landis.
Landis was the last Rowan County town with a successful liquor-by-the-drink vote in May 2008. (Mixed-beverage sales are
prohibited in the Rowan County areas not within the towns and cities approved for the sales.)
Granite Quarry previously had a mixed-beverage referendum July 20, 2004. Turnout was low, and the referendum missed passage by a
196-157 margin, according to Post files.
To say the days and weeks leading up to this year’s referendum have been quiet would be understating things. The only visible signs
that the election is happening are words on the bottom of the El Acapulco sign along North Salisbury Avenue and messages on doors and
windows going into the restaurant.
They are just gentle reminders to vote on the referendum Tuesday.
“All we can tell them is to ‘Please, vote,’ ” Canales says.
As for organized opposition to liquor by the drink in Granite Quarry, none has surfaced.
“It’s very, very reserved,” Mayor Mary S. Ponds says of the special election overall. “… I don’t know what the deal is. It’s very
interesting.”
Residents decide
Members of the town board, which approved calling for the referendum, approached it as a question for residents to decide, not
whether they personally are for or against liquor-by-the-drink sales.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel about it,” Ponds says. “It’s really up to the people. I think our citizens deserve the opportunity to
express their feelings, and I will be supportive of what they want.”
Ponds would not say how she will vote on the question Tuesday.
The same goes for Alderman Eloise Peeler.
“I’m not going to say,” Peeler says. “Maybe the town would benefit from it. … I was in favor of putting it out there and letting
the citizens vote.”
Granite Quarry has five businesses with licenses to sell beer and wine, including El Acapulco, Palermo’s II Italian restaurant, the
Dollar General store, the Gas-n-Go and the Circle K.Town Manager Dan Peters and other town officials say the actual revenue to the town by
adding liquor-by-the-drink sales would not amount to anything major, simply because of the way the Rowan/Kannapolis Alcoholic Beverage
Control Board distributes those revenues among municipalities.
“It’s not like a penny-off-the-tax-rate kind of thing,” Peters
says.
Of the net profits from alcohol sales in Rowan, 40 percent goes
to county government, 22.5 percent to the Salisbury general fund, 22.5
percent to the Kannapolis general fund and 15 percent to other
municipalities in Rowan.
In 2011, Rowan County had $798,797 in liquor sales to businesses
with permits to sell mixed drinks. That figure is lower than each of
the four previous years.
Granite Quarry’s 2012-13 budget anticipates $11,760 in state
beer and wine revenues and only $4,000 in ABC revenues.
The arguments often made by liquor-by-the-drink proponents tout
it as an economic development tool to help existing restaurants, hotels,
and private clubs and bring in new ones. That has the side effect of
generating more sales tax and liquor revenues for the town, the argument
goes.
John VanHoy, who works the grill at Eddie’s Grill in the
Brinkley Center, says he will vote for the referendum Tuesday because he
sees it as a form of progress.
VanHoy used to live in Roxboro, when residents in that Person
County town voted in mixed-beverage sales. VanHoy says he didn’t notice
any increase in arrests or crime in general because of the referendum’s
passage, “but we did get more restaurants, and that was kind of nice.”
If it passes in Granite Quarry, VanHoy adds, he doesn’t see
anything changing dramatically in the town.
Rebecca Castor, who works behind the counter at Eddie’s, says
she first heard about the vote late last week when VanHoy told her about
it.
“I think it will bring more money to Granite Quarry,” she says.
Robert Anderson, a retired town employee who ran for alderman
last year, says people he has talked to are for the referendum’s
passage.
“I hope it goes in,” Anderson says. “It means more money. The
town’s not growing any, and the town needs something to grow on. It’s a
good time for it.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Feather said the liquor vote stirred up more
discussion in 2004, when 353 people voted.
“It’s interesting because maybe our demographics have changed,”
he says.
Feather sees the positive impact a “for” vote could have on
business – El Acapulco, in particular. He would have preferred having
the referendum the same time as next year’s municipal election, but he
concluded it wasn’t fair to hold off a business for that long.
“I think it will help one location at this point,” he adds. “I
hope and wish them well with their business and don’t want to hold them
back.”
But Feather’s personal vote might be different.
“I don’t drink,” he says. “My vote would probably go the way my
lifestyle is.”
Jeff and Roberta Stogner opened El Acapulco in mid- February.
Canales, who manages the restaurant’s website and Facebook page, says
passage of the mixed-drink referendum would lead to a significant
remodeling at El Acapulco, to include a new bar with additional seats
and tables.
“The idea is to stay and grow in a great town with great
people,” Canales says.
Roberta Stogner has a brother who operates El Acapulco
restaurants in Shelby and Boiling Springs. Her business in Granite
Quarry has been inconsistent, she says, though “some days, we are so
busy.”
Is having mixed-drink sales and, more specifically, the ability
to serve margaritas a make-or-break decision for Stogner’s Mexican
restaurant?
“It’s important,” she says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

Here are municipalities in Rowan County which permit mixed-drink sales and the dates when those sales were legalized:
—- Salisbury — Sept. 9, 1986.
—- East Spencer — Sept. 9, 1986
—- Kannapolis — March 5, 2002
—- Spencer — Nov. 5, 2002
—- China Grove — Nov. 6, 2007
—- Landis — May 6, 2008
—- @Body italic:Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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