Durham County

Durham approves alcohol sales on Sunday morning; why some wanted city to act sooner

Sales of alcohol before noon on Sundays have been allowed in Raleigh since July 9. Durham has lagged behind its neighbors in the Triangle in implementing the “brunch bill.”
Sales of alcohol before noon on Sundays have been allowed in Raleigh since July 9. Durham has lagged behind its neighbors in the Triangle in implementing the “brunch bill.” file photo

Sunday brunch in Durham can now include alcoholic beverages, thanks to the Durham City Council’s unanimous vote Monday night.

The council vote was the final step for alcohol sales to begin at 10 a.m. Sundays at licensed businesses. The Durham County Board of Commissioners approved the change earlier in the day Monday.

Now those who want mimosas and other alcoholic beverages with their Sunday brunches are good to go.

Not that Monday’s votes were ever in doubt. Council member Charlie Reece tweeted a week ago that he already had brunch reservations for Sunday.

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the “brunch bill” on June 30, allowing sales of alcohol to begin on Sunday at 10 a.m. instead of noon. Municipalities began amending their codes, with Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Carrboro voting in July. Action is not generally taken during work sessions, but Durham County Board of Commissioners voted to suspend the rules to approve the Sunday morning alcohol sales during its meeting.

Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs noted that they voted before the city.

"So we have taken the lead on this issue," Jacobs said. The board voted unanimously to approve the changes with little discussion.

Behind the rest of the Triangle

Durham was one of the last large municipalities in the Triangle to approve the brunch bill provisions.

According to a survey by Beyu Caffe and the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, about 79 percent of the 49 restaurants surveyed wanted quick action on the bill. But the council did not call a special meeting during its summer break to speed things up.

“The bill came at a difficult time related to the Durham (City Council) schedule,” said Michael Martino, the general manager of the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham.

Martino, who also chairs the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association, lobbied for the bill in the General Assembly.

“The Durham social scene, especially on weekends, has exploded over the past few years,” he said. “I think there was potential lost revenue for those first few weekends, but I do think that there is enough of the summer season left to enjoy (for sales).”

Robert Preston, the general manager of Rue Cler, admitted the wait likely hurt his restaurant’s brunch sales – especially after Raleigh and Chapel Hill quickly passed the ordinance.

“It has certainly been a source of frustration for us to watch Durham lag so far behind the rest of the Triangle on this issue,” he wrote in an email. “We suspect that our Sunday sales over the recent month have been impacted in some small way by having missed the party.”

Craig Spitzer, general manager of The Durham Hotel, said that potential revenue wouldn’t have been that big for them anyway, as July isn’t the most popular period of the year for the hotel’s Sunday brunch offering.

Spitzer added that it will be nice to be able to offer drinks before noon now, especially for the growing number of out-of-town guests to the city, who might not be used to waiting till noon on Sundays.

“We tend to be the busiest around 11 o’clock, and when it hits 12, you can hear the orders start coming in,” he said. “It will be nice to be able to offer people what they want, when they want it.”

Rather than focus on the potential lost revenue, Dorian Bolden, owner of Beyu Caffe, said the real loss of being late on the “brunch bill” was letting Raleigh and Chapel Hill put themselves at the forefront of the issue.

“It’s more so a missed opportunity for Durham to represent itself as a leader in the Triangle, which I think it has now become,” he said.