The plans of Cody businessmen Rich Petersen and Brad Constantine to buy the downtown building and start up the Millstone Pizza Company & Brewery with Gary Johnston had been contingent on getting the city of Cody’s last remaining bar and grill liquor license.
On a 4-3 vote that followed two hours of comments and discussion, the Cody City Council gave Millstone the license over Pat O’Hara Brewing Company — a brewpub being started by Cody dentist Leonard Moore.
“You really don’t know how difficult a situation this is for us to have to make a choice that affects someone’s business,” said Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown on Tuesday night, shortly before casting the deciding vote in favor of Millstone. “Frankly, it’s just the pits.”
Petersen said he and Constantine wouldn’t buy the library if they didn’t get the bar and grill license and suggested they might invest their money somewhere else, including in a different city. He also made the comment that the odds were perhaps 50-50 as to whether Millstone Pizza Company & Brewery would move forward without the liquor license.
“We really feel that we need the license to make it economically feasible,” Petersen said. “Pure and simple economics.”
In contrast, Moore said he was opening Pat O’Hara Brewing Co. regardless of the council’s decision. A previously issued microbrewery license will allow Moore to sell home-brewed and other beer. However, Moore told KODI-AM that being unable to sell liquor and wine would cut his revenue by 25 to 30 percent and for that reason, he would scale back the planned restaurant without the license.
Moore’s commitment to opening — he’s already spent some $250,000 getting the 15th Street location ready to open — appeared to be a part of Moore’s undoing, given Millstone’s uncertain future without the license.
Council President Steve Miller said he was voting to give the license to Millstone because it “will provide an opportunity for two businesses to operate within the community.” Miller, like several other council members, also said it was “a very difficult decision.”
Councilmen Stan Wolz and Donny Anderson and Mayor Brown joined Miller in supporting Millstone.
Wolz said Millstone offered the best overall benefit to the Cody community.
Petersen said his group will be making a “seven-figure” investment in the former library, located on the corner of Sheridan Avenue and 11th Street. Johnston, who’s operated similar businesses in California, said they’ll employ around 25 people year-round and 40 in the summer. Moore had planned to employ 15.
Councilmen Landon Greer, Jerry Fritz and Bryan Edwards voted against giving the license to Millstone; Greer and Fritz voiced concerns about the limited parking and impacts to the neighborhood, particularly a nearby senior citizens complex.
“Millstone just seems to be too big for the area,” Greer said.
Moore had lost out on a more flexible retail liquor license last year, also a 4-3 vote.
Council members then had encouraged Moore to apply for a bar and grill license, but Moore had said the license — which requires 60 percent of revenue to come from food — wouldn’t work. He’d been highly critical of the council after they turned him down in favor of the Chamberlin Inn, but ultimately reworked his plan to expand the kitchen and apply.
Former Cody City Councilman Charles Cloud, who left the council at the end of the year, urged his former colleagues to forget that “Dr. Moore acted like a butt” when the retail license went to the Chamberlin.
Considering the encouragement the council gave Moore about the bar and grill license, giving it to him is “just the right thing to do,” Cloud said.
Moore’s attorney, Mark Garrison of Cody, described his client as a man who’s “dotted his i’s, he’s crossed every single t. He made the commitment” and was ready to open “almost immediately.”
In contrast, Millstone plans to take somewhere between six and 10 months to open.
Other supporters of Pat O’Hara Brewing Co. noted Moore has already invested in the brewpub and the establishment’s uniqueness.
Cody resident Steve Wood said the city has pizza places but not Pat O’Hara’s Irish cuisine and crafted beers.
“This will really be something that will really draw people in and something that will be different enough and unique enough that it will brand Cody a little bit,” Wood said.
However, Millstone supporters said its mix of entertainment, craft beers and food is also unlike anything currently in Cody. Petersen gave a rough comparison to Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s, Applebee’s and Old Chicago.
Millstone, unlike Pat O’Hara Brewing Co., will be open to children as well as adults.
“I think it caters to everyone, and I don’t think you want to let it slip away,” resident Jay Blough of Cody told the council.
Many, including some on the council, wished both businesses could get a license. However, state law limits retail and bar and grill liquor licenses based on a municipality’s population.