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South shore redevelopment: Zorbaz owner asks for 2 a.m. closing time

The owner of Zorbaz on the Lake, a chain of restaurants, said he wants to establish a Bemidji location, but those plans may hinge on one condition: He wants a 2 a.m. closing time.

Tom Hanson, the founder and owner of Zorbaz, made a short presentation to the Bemidji City Council Tuesday night in which he advocated for a 2 a.m. closing time.

If adopted by the council, it would allow licensed establishments to sell liquor on site until 2 a.m. The city now requires a 1 a.m. closing time.

Hanson addressed the council in advance of Monday's work session about on-sale liquor serving time. He said he would be unable to attend.

The first Zorbaz opened in 1969 in Detroit Lakes, Minn. There currently are 10 other Minnesota locations.

"Every community I'm involved in has the 2 o'clock (closing time)," Hanson said.

The 8,000-square-foot Zorbaz would anchor a 24- to 30-unit condominium complex in the south shore redevelopment, Hanson said. Zorbaz would be located on the ground floor and the condos would be included in a five-story building above.

"If I'm not there, the project won't go forward," he said.

The council did not take any action following Hanson's presentation. It did, however, accept some "talking points" from Hanson.

"Our business model developed over 40 years requires a number of constants, one of which is 2 a.m. closing," the talking points state. "Without it, we cannot make the considerable investment required of a new location."

Hanson said none of his establishments has problems associated with the later closing time.

"We have very strict guidelines," he said.

Rather, he said, the later time allows people to feel more ready to leave.

With a 1 a.m. closing time, Hanson said, customers often rush to place a final drink order and drink that beverage, perhaps, more quickly than they should before leaving.

With a 2 a.m. closing time, he said, customers "flow out in less of a hurry and leave in a more comfortable manner."

His talking points noted, too, that with a 2 a.m. closing time, customers are more likely to order food with a beverage before leaving.

An establishment that opts to remain open until 2 a.m. in a city that allows for that time does have to pay more money for a state permit.

But, Hanson said, allowing for a 2 a.m. closing does not force existing establishments to remain open that late.

""You're not required to be open until 2; you're allowed to be open until 2," he said.