Published February 28, 2019
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — It may not be the ideal solution, but it will do the trick for now. Come this spring, after a round of golf at the Hillview Country Club, golfers will be able to enjoy a cold brew once again.
After a lengthy discussion Monday night, the Select Board voted 4-0, with one member absent, to grant a seasonal wine and malt liquor license to Golf Facilities Management Inc. (GFMI), the company that has successfully operated the golf course for about two decades.
Golf Pro Chris Carter already operates the Hillview Snack Bar out of the Pro Shop where hungry golfers can purchase pre-made sandwiches, steamed hotdogs and cold soft drinks. A few summers ago they had been granted the same type of seasonal wine and malt liquor license and he made it work, he said.
Carter told the board the entire staff was TIPS certified and his food operations are certified by Health Director Bob Bracey. He said having the seasonal liquor license enabled the golfers to have a beer or two on the deck outside the Pro Shop where they would do their scorecard before going home. The Pro Shop is 900 square feet and the deck/patio area is 1,500 square feet.
“We put the tent up for outings or to get out of sun and had a fridge in the golf shop,” Carter said. “We have lost golfers who have had no place to go for a cold beer after a round.”
The liquor license would coincide with the golf season, which is roughly April to October, depending on the weather.
The seasonal liquor license was previously granted when the kitchen in the Hillview Pub was undergoing renovations to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. It was clear that Carter, Hillview Commission (HC) Chairman George Stack and HC member Chuck Carucci were disappointed that the Pub at the Hillview had not been kept open on a consistent enough basis to make it a dependable option for the golf patrons to rely upon. Carter said he would prefer that the pub be open.
The current holder of the contract to operate the Hillview function hall and the pub is Nick Yebba and Group One Entertainment. The town, the HC and Group One are currently reviewing an addendum to that contract proposed after Yebba decided operating the pub was not profitable enough and he put a lock on the pub door, according to Stack, who has served as a commissioner since its inception 31 years ago after the town took the Hillview by eminent domain.
The purpose of upgrading the kitchen in the pub, which is downstairs from the function hall/ballroom, was to enable it to operate separately from the function hall.
One issue appears to be whether the pub should be open to the public in general, as it was in the past, or simply be available as a smaller function space for private parties booked through the Hillview.
Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto told the board that the “Hillview Commission provided an addendum to the contract and Group One Entertainment has proposed further addendums and signed it. And it will be viewed by the Hillview Commission at the March 6 meeting.”
Stack explained that they’ve been left in “a quandary” because they are under contract for 15 golf outings for $150,000 in greens fees with GFMI plus they are already booked to eat at the Hillview, and they also have leagues. “We were losing customers,” he said.
They’re trying to come to an agreement with Group One Entertainment that will enable them to honor their commitments and be up and running for the season by March 15.
Stack said it’s also to town’s advantage that the function facilities are profitable because a percentage of the gross earnings is returned to the enterprise fund.
Stack said in 31 years the town has realized “$17 million” from the Hillview enterprise.
Select Board member Bob Mauceri suggested it may be possible in the future to put the pub and the function hall out to bid separately now that the pub’s kitchen has been modernized.
Select Board Chairman Mike Prisco said, “I have given up on the pub because it is not working… That is the reason we have the reduction in revenue,” he said, noting the ballroom revenue is reduced if the pub is open during a function.
Select Board member Andy Schultz said he was not convinced that “the best effort was made to open that pub,” and he questioned how Yebba could say it wasn’t profitable “with a straight face” if he didn’t open the pub last year “until the end of June.”