Happier hour: Small Osceola eateries may soon get liquor licenses thanks to bills

Matador Tacos & Tapas Bar on Broadway in Kissimmee is one example of small restaurants in Osceola County that could get a liquor license.

Small restaurants in downtown Kissimmee and St. Cloud may soon offer liquor, thanks to bills awaiting the governor’s signature in Tallahassee.

The bills successfully passed both chambers during the most recent 2019 legislative session, which ended last week.

In January, mayors from the two Osceola County cities asked state lawmakers to back bills that would allow small downtown restaurants to obtain special liquor licenses if they meet certain requirements.  

In St. Cloud, an establishment would need to be at least 1,500-square feet with a minimum 65-seat capacity, while the Kissimmee bill requires restaurant to have at least 80 seats and 1,800 square feet. In both downtown districts, eateries need at least 51 percent of total sales to come from food and non-alcoholic beverages.

The licenses would not be transferable outside designated downtown areas.

Kissimmee and St. Cloud officials and business owners both saw the legislation as a way to improve economic opportunities for the booming downtown areas.

“We believe it will help us to bring in more business and bring more people into the downtown,” St. Cloud Mayor Nathan Blackwell told the News-Gazette in January. “It will contribute to the growth and revitalization of our downtown, which we’ve been investing quite a bit of money into trying to give it a facelift.”

Lawmakers listened and agreed with the mayors during an Osceola County legislative delegation meeting in January, noting successful lobbying efforts for the same kind of legislation in downtown Orlando just last year.

The measure received bipartisan support from the state representatives and senator.  

The 2019 Florida Legislative Session began in March, and bills to establish special small restaurant liquor license zones passed both chambers in recent weeks. They are now awaiting a signature from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The laws would go into effect immediately after being signed.

Restaurant owners like Jackie Espinosa were thrilled to see the measures do well.

Espinosa and her husband, Jorge, own the Kissimmee Diner and Matador Tacos & Tapas Bar on Broadway in Kissimmee.

Though Matador offers tasty sangrias and beer, Espinosa said she worked alongside Kissimmee’s city manager to have this bill brought forward because she wants to give her customers options.

“Matador offers diverse entertainment and we often pack our house,” Espinosa told the News-Gazette in January. “Unfortunately, we are unable to offer that customer their request for a Long Island Iced Tea or a Gin and Tonic as they watch our very nice and carefully planned evenings of entertainment.”    

On Tuesday night, Espinosa said she is excited to see the economic benefits take place not only for her own business, but others in Historic Downtown Kissimmee.

“I think it’s a well-researched and thoughtful bill that will help expand our downtown’s vision of growth,” she said. “I’m very honored to finally see this become a long-overdue reality.”