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The only Taco Bell Cantina restaurant in Michigan, on Main Street in Royal Oak, was denied a liquor license Monday by the Royal Oak City Commission.

Jim Rasor, attorney for Dortch Enterprises which owns the restaurant at 420 S. Main St., confirmed the denial on Tuesday. He said that while all options have not been fully explored regarding a liquor license, including pursuing one on provisional/probationary grounds, "the numbers aren't working" in the restaurant's current form, with no booze.

Dortch Enterprises bought 24 Taco Bell restaurants, including the Cantina, in a $40 million purchase, Rasor said. The build-out cost another $750,000, and brought a long-empty Main Street storefront back in business. Taco Bell Cantina opened early in the new year.

Royal Oak Police Department has been consistent in its opposition to granting the restaurant a liquor license, according to an April 18 letter to the city commission from City Attorney David Gillam.

Ownership met with police leadership on April 12, Gillam's letter claimed, but "while some of (the police's) concerns have been addressed, the police department continues to be opposed to a plan of operation that includes the service of alcohol."

Gillam recommended the course of action that the city commission chose to deny the liquor license. Among his reasons: "concentration of drinking establishments and impact on policing requirements"; "crowd control"; and "unspecified factors affecting the health, safety, welfare and/or best interests of the community," among others. 

Rasor said the denial "sends a terrible message to investors," and may, if it holds, lead to the storefront, formerly home to Cold Stone Creamery, going vacant once again.

"People come in and ask if they're serving alcohol yet," Rasor said. "When we say no, they leave. This store is not doing the numbers it needs to do. At some point in time, we'll have to pull the plug."

But even if the liquor license had been granted, the restaurant's projected sales would come 95 percent from food and just 5 percent from alcohol.

"It is very uncommon for a customer to order more than one drink during a visit, or to order a drink without ordering food," ownership explained in a correspondence with city hall. 

Since the Cantina had sought a bistro liquor license, alcohol sales wouldn't have been permitted beyond midnight. Voluntarily, it would've cut off alcohol service at 11 p.m. between Sunday and Wednesday. Alcohol would have been serviced in "specific cups...easily distinguished from non-alcoholic beverages," ownership wrote.

Rasor said the location has high foot traffic, with about a million pedestrians walking by a year, along with high housing density and Royal Oak's geography, between Ferndale and Detroit to the south and Birmingham to the north. 

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