FIVE businesses, ONE liquor LICENSE

Crostini Beer and Wine Bar would bring a new restaurant concept to town when it opens this winter in the former St. Clair’s Menswear storefront in downtown Wausau. Think local craft beers and Wisconsin wines, paired with tapas-style food. Such a business might not stand out in big cities, but it’s new to Wausau.

Before the business can open though, it faces stiff competition for the city’s lone remaining regular liquor license. Because the city’s 64 liquor licenses are in such demand, Wausau officials don’t rely on a first-come, first-serve basis anymore. A few years ago city hall changed the rules to allow officials to select establishment from applicants.

Who else is contending for the license? Competing with Crostini is Wausau on the Water Family Entertainment Center, the first development in the city’s East Riverfront Development project. The 16-acre parcel will see a record-sized development of primarily residential, along with some commercial and retail space.

Other probable applicants: Rosati’s Pizza, which opened recently in the former Pizza Hut location on First Avenue; Masa, a Japanese restaurant opening on Stewart Avenue; and Downtown Grocery, which would like a liquor license for when it reopens its Third Street location next year.

So far, only Masa and WOW have turned in paperwork to the city clerk’s office. The rest have until 4 pm on Oct. 14 to do so. The Public Health & Safety Committee will make its choice Oct. 17.

This regular liquor license costs $600, and Wausau, like many municipalities, caps their availability in order to control the number of bars. But Wausau does offer up to 11 reserve liquor licenses, of which three are currently in use, to accommodate special projects. These reserve licenses come with a steep, one-time $10,000 price tag—nearly insurmountable for a small business just starting out.

The city also has beer and wine licenses (no hard liquor), available to places with at least 51% of sales from food.

Would that work for Crostini? It’s not ideal, says Wausau resident Troy Davis, who’s launching Crostini with investment group Third Peak Hospitality. Wausau is to be a test location for what could be a larger chain, Davis says.

Originally from Milwaukee and armed with an MBA (the investors are fellow business school grads), Davis hopes to create a new experience aimed at local millennials: crostini snacks (toasted or fried breads with delicious toppings), mini gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and pita-crust pizzas, paired with Wisconsin craft beer and wines. Food will be available late into the night and charging ports will be placed strategically to keep patrons’ phones fueled.

Crostini probably won’t have the dining capacity in the beginning to serve enough food to meet the 51% food threshold for the beer-wine license. Further, Davis says it will be tough if his bar couldn’t offer cocktails or bloody Marys on Sundays.

With liquor licenses in short supply and high demand, city officials will have a tough decision.