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Taco Bell

The Taco Bell Cantina on State Street pursued a license to sell wine and beer, but a veto by the mayor was not overturned by the City Council. 

Owners of a Taco Bell franchise on State Street are suing the city of Madison over denial of a liquor license.

Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy will lead the city’s defense. Zilavy said her next steps are to review and respond to the complaint.

In a complaint filed April 13 in Dane County Circuit Court, Bell Great Lakes, LLC alleges that the city's denial was "unlawful and discriminatory" when considering the city's prior restaurant liquor license approvals and current policy. The complaint highlights that the city approved a liquor license to Chen's Dumpling House, located across the street from Taco Bell Cantina at 505 State Street, three weeks after the city denied a license for Taco Bell.  

"There was no meaningful or material difference between (Bell Great Lakes') application and the applications the City earlier and later approved," the complaint states. "The disparate treatment is arbitrary, unlawful, and unfair."  

Pat Eulberg, a representative of the franchise, was not immediately available for comment Monday.

Greg Flynn, chairman and CEO of Flynn Restaurant Group, which owns Bell Great Lakes, said in a statement Monday that the company offered to comply with restrictions placed on an alcohol license and offered to take steps to improve public safety, including installing additional video cameras on-site, increasing lighting on State Street, using ID scanners, providing employee training and increasing the visibility at the front of the restaurant.

“The bottom line is that while we have been beyond accommodating to all involved parties, we truly believe that the way this matter was handled is due solely to the Mayor’s unwarranted bias against our restaurant brand,” Flynn said.

The Madison City Council originally approved a license last December for Taco Bell Cantina to serve wine and beer at 534 State Street until 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday each week, and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Madison Mayor Paul Soglin vetoed the license Dec. 12. He argued that the city has enough alcohol establishments and that granting an alcohol license to a fast food restaurant downtown would impair public safety and increase police costs.

Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he was not surprised by the news because the franchise owners filed open record requests for all documents, including emails between policymakers, related to the license.

“Although I supported granting the beer and wine license, I’m disappointed that the applicant filed suit against the city,” Verveer said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.