A new sushi restaurant plans to open Saturday on State Street, even though it cannot get a liquor license.
Xi Wang said she has invested $300,000 into the former American Apparel location at 502 State St., which is owned by her cousin.
Besides sushi, Koi Sushi will serve teriyaki and hibachi as well as Chinese food. It won't serve alcohol, at least not at first, since Madison’s Alcohol License Review Committee has denied Wang a liquor license.
"I cannot believe it," Wang said. "I can't do anything."
Wang, 36, said she is paying her cousin, Jiang Jing Xun, who owns the building, $10,800 per month to lease the space.
Xun owns the buildings that house many Chinese and Japanese restaurants, including the sushi restaurant Edo on Park Street, and the Chinese restaurant Ichiban, also on Park Street.
He also runs a couple of restaurants -- Soga and Osaka House across the street from each other on State Street. He also owns the building that houses Osaka House.
The city's denial is a victory for Mayor Paul Soglin’s attempt to preserve retail in the Downtown area by limiting alcohol licenses. "It's not fair to me," Wang said.
"The 500 block of State Street is ground zero for policing issues Thursday through Saturday evenings for the Central police district," City Council President and committee member Mike Verveer, 4th District, said at a January meeting of the ALRC, when the committee voted 3-2 against the license.
Verveer questioned Wang at the meeting, and asked her, finally, if she planned to open the restaurant even without the license. She said she did. "I hope you support me," she told him. "I've already invested a lot of money into the restaurant."
At the same meeting, Ald. Ledell Zellers, 2nd District, said she was concerned about the density of licenses on the 500 block. She also expressed concern about applicants coming in front of the ALRC believing getting a license is a "done deal." She called a liquor license "a privilege, not a right."
Zellers also questioned why Wang's hours were scheduled to be 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. daily, when those hours are a lot later than a typical restaurant would be open.
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, 5th District, who voted against the motion to deny the license, wondered if Wang was warned that she might not get a license before she began the remodeling process.
Verveer said his opposition was based on location and hours, and not the pro-retail, anti-liquor license positions of Soglin and Zellers.
"I can't support any more full liquor licenses on the 500 block that would be used until bar time," he said.
Verveer said his other concern was that Wang's business would become an illegal night club, like her family's restaurant, Osaka House, had across the street.
Wang, who moved to Wisconsin two years ago from Hunan Province, China, lived in Green Bay and Appleton before settling in Madison a year ago.
"It is my dream to have my own restaurant and bar," said Wang, who is helping out at her cousin's restaurant, Chili King, at 602 S. Park St. She also worked without pay at the Cambodian-Thai restaurant, Angkor Wat, before that, she said.
Wang said she owned a restaurant and hotel in China for three years.
While she is upset about the liquor license denial, she is pleased with the major remodeling of the State Street space. "It looks really nice," she said.