There will not be a new bar/restaurant in Frannie following the rejection last Wednesday night of a retail liquor license by the Frannie Town Council.
Meeting in special session last Wednesday, Sept. 12, the council voted 3-1-1 (one abstention and one “yes” vote) against a license for Smoke and Mirrors LLC following an hour-long public hearing. An earlier hearing resulted in a 2-2 tie on the council, with one member absent.
Partners Riley Cooke and Debbie Beard said they have been planning to open a restaurant modeled after the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, Mont., and the Edgar Bar in Edgar, Mont., both of which “are excellent businesses drawing customers from way beyond their normal market area,” Cooke and Beard said in a business plan dated June 25. They planned to name the establishment “Fort Buzzard,” and it would be located in the old fire station on the main highway through town.
“Our plan is to be unique enough to draw people from Cody, Powell and Billings,” the business plan stated.
“We feel that people driving these distances will require both food and drink, but we have no desire to just be a restaurant,” the business plan continued.
Cooke and Beard passed out a possible sample menu to people attending the hearing, and the menu included burgers, buffalo burgers, a hot hamburger plate, open face hot beef sandwich, chef’s salad, Philly cheese steak and more. One idea is to serve the meals family style, Cooke said.
In a letter to community members also distributed prior to the meeting, Beard addressed rumors she said were circulating in the community, stating that the partners were “wrongly accused” of planning to open “a strip joint with exotic dancers” or an “outlaw biker bar.”
“Several times we replied that we (are) not going to do this, that it was strictly rumor, and it is strictly rumor,” Beard wrote in the letter. “The other major accusation was opening an outlaw biker bar. Well, I do not know any outlaw bikers.”
Realizing that Frannie is too small to support two bars, Beard reiterated the necessity of attracting people from other communities, and she said the restaurant would also hold classic car shows a few times a year.
“We had some community members show up at our (earlier) hearing with valid concerns, (but) most were about the strip joint we are not going to have,” Beard wrote. “All I can say is I will do my best. People who know me know I am a person of my word…If allowed, we would like to be that establishment that people talk about miles away.”
Mayor Jack Cordner allowed citizens to speak their piece at the hearing last week, giving each speaker five minutes to talk, although few needed that much time. Most citizens, including a few from Cowley, spoke in opposition to the license, though there were also a few supporters.
Miriam Roberts was first and stated her opposition to issuing a second liquor license in town, feeling that the needs of citizens are being met by the current, sole license currently owned by the Frannie Bar. Having two bars in a town of 150 people “lends a certain air of desperation,” Roberts said.
She also said she believes grant money would be hard for the community to obtain in a town with more bars than other established businesses and said a member of the sheriff’s dept. told her that most problems in a community have roots in alcohol.
“There’s no reason to have two bars when we have one that is well run,” she said.
Husband Shane Roberts voiced his concern about a possible new business driving a current business (the Frannie Bar) out of business. He also cited and quoted state statutes related to urban development and control of slum and blighted areas that “constitute a serious and growing menace injurious to the public health, safety, morals and welfare of the residents of the state.”
“This body has an obligation to protect the town,” he said. “The state has found that the municipality can deal with blighted areas. It’s pretty clear as Miriam said that if we have two bars on Main Street and want a grant it’s not going to happen in a blighted area.”
Shane Roberts added that research performed by councilman Vance Peregoy found that 90 percent of Frannie residents oppose the bar and “we need to listen to the people of the town.” He concluded by saying that a second bar could erode property values.
Roy Harper of Cowley spoke next and objected on a personal level to Cooke being the holder of a liquor license due to what he called unethical practices while serving as manager of the North Big Horn County Airport. He said he didn’t think Cooke was suitable for the public trust of a liquor license.
Mayor Cordner said any applicant for a liquor license undergoes a background check at the state level and anything that would have disqualified Cooke would have come to light. He also urged members of the public to exercise restraint in regard to personal comments.
Harper described Cooke as a gregarious and likeable person but asked if he had ever obtained the proper license to distribute fuel at the airport.
Cooke objected to what he called “pot shots at my reputation” and said he ran the airport as he was instructed by the county.
“The county hired me to do a job, and we did the job,” he said. “I don’t know why you’re attacking me. The county owned the fuel and hired me to sell it. I did everything I could and tried to be helpful. You’re just taking a shot at me and that doesn’t have anything to do with the liquor license.”
Terry Moore asked Harper where he lived and he replied, “Cowley.”
Richard Rasmussen said he objected to the bar/restaurant because of its location next to a residence, and the mayor also read a letter later from the owners of the residence, Bryant and Sherry Wedin, who also objected to the license on the same grounds.
Margaret Rock said she had no specific opinion on the liquor license but said it would be nice to have a restaurant in the community, noting, “A lot of the women, we like that.”
Theresa Briggs spoke in favor of the bar/restaurant, urging the council to “let her (Beard) have it and give her a chance.”
“I appreciate Roy’s comments,” Cooke said in response to Harper’s earlier testimony. “I am colorful but legal. I’ve always been legal. You need to know more about me. I am a Shriner and I help kids.”
He explained his rationale behind the upscale bar and restaurant that would draw people in, noting, “You need to broaden the circle.”
Cooke said people drive for miles to shop at the Tack Shop because the Campbell family runs a quality store. Beard has similar skills, he said, adding that he would not be a part of the day-to-day operation.
“If we do a good job, people will come to Frannie,” he said. “I don’t want to sell a lot of liquor, but it’s critical to operate a restaurant to have that.”
He objected to “personal attacks” and said he’s a good man, a good father and a reasonable businessman because he’s “still alive in this economy.”
He said Beard has many ideas for the restaurant such as serving meals family style.
“It’ll be really, really unique,” Cooke added. “That’s what I’m good at. I can do unique as well as anybody. The stuff about it being a bar bar, I’m not interested in the bar business. I want to be in the food business.”
Diane Wagner pointed out that the town does not have to issue a second liquor license just because it possesses the license. She said the Frannie Bar meets the needs of the public. She also said a license can be denied if the welfare of the people in the vicinity would be adversely affected. She said the adjacent residents would be adversely affected by noise and parking. Wagner said there are other areas in town where a bar or restaurant could be located and not affect a neighbor.
Frannie Bar owner Melanie Ellis said Frannie hasn’t had a place to eat for 20 years and a liquor license wouldn’t help. She said she has tried to serve food beyond basic bar food over the years and it never took off, noting, “People in the community don’t like to eat where there is alcohol.” But she said a new bar in town would “put us in the dirt,” adding, “If we lose one customer it would kill us.”
Pat Davis of Cowley, a retired teacher, said her concern is about the effect another bar would have on the children of the community. She noted that the Cowtown Restaurant in Cowley was a success without a liquor license.
“I realize I don’t live here, but I live in the general vicinity, and Frannie is one of our favorite places to drive through heading to Montana,” Davis said.
Given a chance for rebuttal, Beard said she didn’t have much to say, noting that she and Cooke have been grilled repeatedly and “everybody should know what we’re trying to do.”
Cooke called the hearing a witch hunt and said he probably shouldn’t have put his name on the corporation and rather should have “played the game” as a silent partner. But he said he “played the game straight.”
He again explained that the business would be a restaurant first and noted the floor plan, which would use the current office space for the bar area and the former fire truck bays as the restaurant – by far the largest area. He said the bar area would be totally separate from the restaurant.
“I’d like to run a good business, given the opportunity,” he said. “That’s all I ask.”
Cordner asked for a motion for discussion, and each council member was given the opportunity to speak. Councilman Ron Logan found irony in Davis’ comments that she enjoys driving “through” Frannie and asked, “We want people to stop in Frannie to have dinner, don’t we? Our revenue is going down every year. Every little bit is going to help us.”
Nadine Kreutzer said she took the job as a councilwoman to help the people. She said she has spoken with many residents on the telephone and “99½ percent of them do not want (another) bar in this town.”
Cordner then called for the question and asked each member of the council, in turn, to state his or her reason for voting a particular way.
Peregoy was first and said he personally thought the restaurant was “a good deal,” but he said he was asked to find people in favor of the business and said he couldn’t so he had to vote “no.”
Kreutzer said she has talked to many people who are against the restaurant and also voted “no.”
Cordner, too, said he has spoken to a number of residents who believe it is not in the best interests of a town of Frannie’s size to issue a second liquor license. He said he agreed and would feel that way regardless of who the applicant was. He also voted “no.”
With the issue decided, Logan said he would abstain, and Brenda Kawano voted “yes,” saying she used to work in a bar and lived behind a bar and the noise didn’t bother her. She said she thinks the partners should have a chance to run a business.
The liquor license was defeated with one vote in favor, three against and one abstention.
By David Peck