A restaurant that will be locatedin the Arts and Transit Neighborhood is attempting to obtain a liquor license, even though the state has already given away its maximum number of licenses to the town of Princeton.
To get around the lack of available licenses, Raoul Momo, head of Terra Momo Restaurant Group, applied for a concessionaire’s permit, a special kind of permission granted to businesses that the state deems to be of public benefit. MetLife Stadium, for example, has received a concessionaire’s permit. The restaurant will be owned and operated by Terra Momo Restaurant Group, which also owns a number of other restaurants in the area, including Mediterra, Teresa Caffe and Eno Terra.
“We feel that this is a project that is very important to New Jersey,” Momo said. “Theater, restaurants —they’re revitalizing that whole area of the town and creating a new area of vitality for commerce.”
He added that “it’s very complementary to have a great meal accompanied by a nice bottle or glass of wine.”
Momo sought the help of Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, who wrote a letter to the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which grants liquor and concessionaire’s permits, on behalf of Terra Momo Restaurant Group.
The letter noted that the Terra Momo Group has an established relationship with the Princeton community and said that she expected the group’s University site to operate on the same fine food- and wine-based model of business, according to reporting by Planet Princeton.
Lempert said that she didn’t know if her letter would have any effect on the ABC’s decision and that “ultimately, it’s their decision.”
This is the first time Lempert has written a letter on behalf of a business for the express purpose of obtaining a concessionaire’s permit, although she has written letters to support Princeton businesses in other ways, she said.
Lempert, whose husband, Kenneth Norman, is a psychology professor at the University, said that she did not see any reason not to intervene on behalf of the Arts and Transit development’s restaurant.
“The University didn’t ask me to write the letter,” she said, adding that therefore she had no worry about a conflict of interest. Lempert has recused herself from University-related votes of the town council in the past. She has recused herself from ongoing negotiations of the University’s annual payment-in-lieu-of-taxes.
It is not uncommon for public officials to write letters attesting to the good character of various businesses, though it is less common for letters to be sent for the purpose of obtaining a concessionaire’s permit, ABC public information officer Zachariah Hosseini said. He said that his office had not yet received Terra Momo’s application.
Hosseini said that granting concessionaire’s permits “is not common.” He added that “it may happen as a matter of course, but those are usually exclusively only for establishments that are on state-owned property.” The Arts and Transit Neighborhood will lie on University property.
Momo said that he wanted to expand his restaurant group because “the market could definitely use more restaurants on busy nights. It becomes a fight for seats.” He added that he was excited by the prospect of being able to serve the crowds who flock to McCarter Theatre.
Terra Momo Restaurant Group did not consider purchasing a liquor license from a business that currently possesses one, as Momo said that it would be prohibitively expensive. The last sale of a liquor license in the area, to the restauranteur Jack Morrison, cost about $1 million.
Momo said that the restaurant will be accompanied by a small cafe, also owned by Terra Momo, which will share the concessionaire’s permit if it is granted.