Success in a Dry Town

Twelves Grill’s Tim and Kristin Smith explain how they’ve stayed successful in West Grove.

Twelves Grill’s Tim and Kristin Smith

Tim Smith is a chef whose food is worthy of wine. And he’s been in the restaurant business long enough to know about the profit alcoholic beverages can bring. But he chose to set up shop in a dry borough.

Is he crazy?

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“We really did look into it,” said Smith who, with wife Kristin, opened Twelves Grill & Cafe in West Grove in 2008. “But knowing that we were going to start from scratch—including totally rehabbing the building—going BYOB was a good way to start. It allowed us to focus on high-quality food.”

Thing is, dry is not necessarily forever. West Grove, like any other municipality in Pennsylvania, can change its wet-dry status if its residents desire. And in most cases, it’s had little to do with the morality of drinking alcohol. According to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans drink. Instead, the ability to switch is a highly specific tool that can be used to attract a desired business, or get rid of one regarded as undesirable.

In long-dry Antrim Township, near Chambersburg, voters in 2015 agreed to go “wet” after local leaders saw a need to broaden the tax base. In Chester County, East Nantmeal also went wet, at the request of two long-established golf clubs that wanted to serve members. Elverson, in northern Chester County, went dry in 1979 to get rid of a biker bar.

In West Grove, the sale of beer has been banned since 1947—and liquor since 1934. But Smith learned that those policies could be changed. But even when available, a liquor license is expensive, as is the necessary insurance and staffing required to handle booze. “The borough offered to support us in a referendum about making an exception to the dry ordinance,” he said. “But we chose not to go that route.”

According to borough manager Sharon Nesbitt, the building that now houses Twelves—an 1883 Victorian mansion previously occupied by a bank—sits at a prominent location, and officials were concerned that it be used and preserved. Gaining an upscale restaurant was also seen as desirable. “I don’t think voters would be opposed to [going wet] if it proposed in the context of Twelves,” she says.
Otherwise, says Nesbitt, there’s no need. Both a state store and a beer distributor are nearby. “People in West Grove are used to driving,” she adds.

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For his part, Smith doesn’t think West Grove’s dry ordinance should be repealed, even though, according to Standard & Poor’s, liquor can generate almost a third of a restaurant’s revenue. “I like the attraction of being BYOB,” he says. “Lots of people like going to a nice place and not having to pay crazy prices for a bottle of wine.”

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