North Branch council issues ‘last call’ for business’ liquor license

On April 23, 2019, Karma Grill, a restaurant that was operating in the same building as JJ’s Bowl in North Branch, officially closed for business. When they closed, this created a situation where JJ’s Bowl was now in violation of their city-issued liquor license. During the March 10, 2020 North Branch City Council meeting, the council was asked what actions should be taken in terms of this violation.

According to City Clerk Ragini Varma, terms of the city’s liquor license require a “fully functional restaurant.” Since Karma Grill closed, JJ’s Bowl has continued to sell alcohol without a restaurant. 

Varma mentioned that JJ’s Bowl never contacted her regarding the restaurant’s closing. “I learned about it through a Facebook post,” she said, adding that she needs to inform the state’s Alcohol and Gambling Division of such things.

“Ultimately, its the state that revokes it (the liquor license), it’s the city’s responsibility first to issue the license,” she said.

At the same time, Varma said the city has the authority to tell the state if they wish to revoke a license or offer an extension period for the business to come within compliance of their liquor license. Varma indicated JJ’s Bowl has actually been given an extension following her discovery of the violation, plus technically another one when the city granted them a 2020 license after the owners indicated they had at least one buyer looking at renting out the space formerly occupied by Karma Grill. It has now been 90 days since that and there is still no buyers or renters.

Council member Kathy Blomquist indicated that since it’s now been almost a full year since they have been in compliance, it might be best to revoke it.

“I do like the fact they are trying to find another restaurant to fill that space,” Blomquist said. “It has been a year, and we just don’t know how long its going to take to get another restaurant.”

“I don’t like seeing businesses close down in North Branch,” said council member Kelly Neider, noting that she knows the entire building, including the bowling alley, has been for sale for a while. “In the event they are serious about seeking a restaurant to come in there, I’m not opposed to extending their liquor license on a temporary basis...with an understanding that at the end of that, there is no more extensions.”

Council member Joel McPherson made a motion to extend their license by 60 days from their last violation, which was on Feb. 27, which would give JJ’s Bowl until April 27 to find a restaurant to move in. That motion passed unanimously, with Mayor Jim Swenson absent from the meeting.

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