PAWTUCKET — A Newport Avenue Mediterranean bakery that currently sells pizza and gyros is looking to drum up business in two new ways: by selling liquor and offering flavorful puffs from a waterpipe.
The owner of Amy's Mediterranean Pizzeria & Cafe at 842 Newport Ave. has applied for a full liquor license from the city. The application, filed under the name of Nasser Enterprises Inc., will be considered at a public hearing of the Pawtucket Board of License Commissioners at City Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 6:45 p.m.
The name on the application has been changed to Amy's Hookah Restaurant & Grill, and a woman who identified herself as the owner of the business told The Times on Tuesday that she intends to operate a “hookah bar” as part of the restaurant's offering. She said she has contacted the state's Division of Taxation to obtain the necessary paperwork to operate as a “smoking bar” under Rhode Island law.
While Rhode Island passed an indoor smoking ban in 2005, certain establishments, including cigar lounges and hookah bars, have been allowed to exist as “smoking bars” as long as 50 percent or more of the business's revenue comes from tobacco sales. All users of tobacco products must be 18 years of age or older.
According to Donald Englert, chief revenue agent with the state Division of Taxation, the owner of a smoking bar must fill out a business application to obtain a sales tax permit for the sale of tobacco products and also obtain a cigarette dealer's license (required for any tobacco product). Both licenses must be renewed annually.
After a smoking bar has been open for one calendar year, the owner is required to sign a sworn affidavit certifying that at least 50 percent of the gross revenue is derived from the sale of tobacco products. Englert said that the Division of Taxation sends out agents periodically to audit these figures.
According to Wikipedia, the origin of hookah smoking dates to the millenia in northwestern India, and the practice later became part of Middle Eastern culture. The hookah, also known as a waterpipe, is a single or multi-stemmed (often glass-based) instrument for smoking in which the smoke is cooled and filtered by passing through water. The tobacco smoked is referred to as shisha or sheesha and is usually cooked with sugar and fruit extracts in various flavors.
In Rhode Island, there are listings for several hookah bars, including the Nara Lounge and Providence Byblos in Providence, and the Sedra Cafe in Kingston.
City Councilor Mark Wildenhain, who represents District 2, said that the owner of Amy's Hookah Bar and Grill had contacted him about her plans to seek both a liquor license and operate a hookah bar. He said he told her that while he was willing to consider her request to sell beer and wine with the pizza and food items she is serving, he would not support a hookah bar in that location.
Wildenhain also said he was concerned about the fact that the owner had originally submitted a business plan for a bakery and restaurant and now was coming back to the city saying she could not make a go of it with the bakery and needed to have a liquor license. He said he felt that this new plan was very different from the business model she had first presented.
Also in Pawtucket, the Habanos Cigar Lounge at 1438 Newport Ave. is currently operating as a smoking bar with a liquor and food license, although the city has taken the issue of the liquor license to court. City officials have argued that the addition of the cigar lounge made for one too many bars in an already “saturated” area and that there were traffic and safety concerns about its parking lot off Newport Avenue.