Hardister wants Health Department (rather than dogs) out of taprooms, Health Department agrees
On Valentine’s Day, Greensboro social media barked outrage over the Guilford County Health Department’s attempt to ban dogs (and other pets that aren’t service animals) from taprooms.
It began with a 3:14 p.m. public Facebook post by the popular downtown brewpub Joymongers, the first three sentences of which are reproduced below:
“We are very disappointed to tell you that by order of the Guilford Health Dept, dogs (other than service animals properly licensed), are not allowed in any Brewery taproom. We were served with a written warning by the Guilford Health Department and further violations could lead to thousands of dollars in fines and suspension of our license to operate. Under state health code there is no category for taprooms so we fall under restaurant rules, even though we have no kitchen or food prep areas.”
Over the next three days, this post received 382 comments, 124 shares and 693 reactions, with 346 of the emoji expressing sadness and 147 expressing anger. One of the people to respond was North Carolina House Majority Whip and District 59 Rep. Jon Hardister, who had been tagged by a previous commenter.
Hardister commented that he was “interested in clarifying this law, so taprooms don’t fall under restaurant rules.” He shared the Joymongers post at 6:53 p.m. on Thursday, stating that the matter “is something the General Assembly needs to address” and that his staff was “working on a plan to get this resolved.”
Guilford County District 3 Commissioner Justin Conrad also weighed in after being tagged by Hardister in the Joymongers thread, commenting on Friday morning that “I think we have a temporary solution while the state addresses the proper legislation” and that Joymongers “should be hearing from someone at Public Health today.”
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who had also been tagged in the thread, commented on Friday that she had already discussed the matter with Conrad and would be meeting with Hardister “to reinforce our support for this.”
As the story spread on traditional as well as social media, WFMY News 2 reported that the classification of taprooms as restaurants stemmed from beer being poured into glasses that were then washed and used again, which required a food service permit.
This is why the regulation does not affect establishments such as Crooked Tail Cat Café or the Barking Deck indoor dog park, which serve drinks in disposable plastic receptacles. It only applies to inside spaces, not the patios of restaurants such as Café Europa or Bites + Pints, where customers often bring their dogs. Private membership bars are also exempt.
On Friday, Monday and Tuesday, I spoke with Hardister about this matter. In our first conversation, he gave me the following statement:
“My staff is working on legislation that would simply provide a definition of a taproom so that pets can be allowed. Of course, the decision would be made by the owner. Which is the way it pretty much has been done in North Carolina. I’ve traveled around the state, I’ve been to a number of taprooms, and it’s fairly common for pets to be allowed into a taproom. But part of the issue here is that local health departments can interpret the health code as they see fit. In this case, it’s not really clear, simply because there is no standard statewide definition.”
On Tuesday morning, he told me that one possible solution they are investigating is to put taprooms, at least those without kitchens, under the same classification as wine bars.
“Last night, my research assistant met with county staff, and they talked about the topic at hand. The idea at this point in time is to change the law so that a taproom is more or less in the same classification as a wine bar or winery. It has been brought to my attention that a wine shop that does not have a restaurant does not have to be inspected by the local health department.”
Hardister said that the Guilford County Health Department made the suggestion, and had pointed out that wineries routinely serve wine in glasses that are then cleaned and reused. “My staff is switching gears on the bill draft to see if we can put taprooms that have no restaurant in the same category as a wine shop that has no restaurant, in which case they would not be inspected by the local health department, and the subject of whether or not pets would be allowed would, most likely, be resolved.”
He said he hoped to have a bill draft ready this week, possibly as early as Thursday. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll try to drop it next week.”
Minutes after my conversation with Hardister, Guilford County Health Department educator Sandy Ellington returned a call I’d made to her earlier and gave me the following statement:
“I have spoken with David Foust, who is our environmental health director, and he said we can’t confirm that we will not inspect Joymongers until the law changes, because by law, our inspections are unannounced, and are scheduled according to the establishment’s risk to the public health. So, we can’t say that we won’t go in, but we can say that our goal is to change the law to get it to the point where the health department doesn’t have to inspect breweries at all. We, Representative Hardister, and the county commissioners are all working together for that.”