Several bars and breweries have found themselves at odds with the Florida Department of Health over a recent crackdown on a rule that prohibits pets inside businesses that serve food.
Many of them have signed a petition on Change.org asking state lawmakers “to pass dog friendly legislation so that people can continue to enjoy having their four legged family members join them at their favorite brewery, winery, distillery or pub.”
Mark Stillman, one of the owners of Green Room Brewing in Jacksonville Beach, started the petition, which had nearly 15,000 signatures as of midday Monday.
“We’re hoping that we can get enough attention that the folks at the Department of Health or our legislators will take a look at the issue and reconsider this,” said Stillman. “We have seen other states — even just recently we’ve seen the state of New Jersey and the state of Virginia enact a law specifically to allow dogs in breweries, wineries and distilleries. Whether they want to handle it through a change in the law or just an administrative ruling, which they could do… I’d love to see that happen, either way.”
The rule in question is Florida Administrative Code 64E-11.008, which states:
“No live birds or animals except for crustacea, shellfish and fish in aquariums shall be allowed in a food service establishment, in vehicles used for transporting food or in any other area or facility used to conduct food service”
In a letter it sent to bars this month, the Department of Health in Duval County said that rule does apply to bars and taprooms, even if they don’t prepare or serve food.
The biggest problem with the Health Department letter, according to Stillman, is including beverages as a form of food.
“With that definition, it opens up a lot of problems. And they don’t regulate the brewery itself. The brewery is under a separate license. The Department of Health does not regulate that,” he said.
“We understand when it comes to food establishments, we get it, the Department of Health plays a very important role there. We’re not questioning that,” Stillman said. “But places like us, that do not have food, we just don’t think it makes sense.”
Green Room Brewing has been open for more than seven years, and dogs have always been allowed inside, according to Stillman. And he doesn’t ever remember having a problem.
Another Jacksonville business affected by the DOH rule is Kanine Social, which opened earlier this month in Riverside after marketing itself as a place where people would be able to drink beer and wine inside the taproom with their dogs.
In its current form, the business is a doggie daycare and private indoor/outdoor dog park that serves nitro cold brew coffee and an assortment of flavored kombuchas. But after making several modifications to their business model and facility layout, entrepreneurs Dustin Fries and Daniel Moffatt said they are looking forward to getting their beer and wine license.
“The focus of Kanine Social isn’t on beer and wine,” said Moffatt. “The focus is on the dogs. That’s why we decided to open once we got construction completed, before approval of our beer and wine license.”
He said he and Fries have been working with health officials to make sure their business does not violate any state codes. Once their beer and wine license is approved, they will begin serving alcohol in their taproom — the one space on Kanine Social property where dogs currently aren’t allowed.
“We can sell beer and wine by closing off that space and having an indoor dog park completely separate and an indoor dog daycare completely separate from our taproom,” explained Moffatt. “So we have separate outside entrances to both the daycare and the park that people come in through.”
Meanwhile, Fries said, DOH officials recommended pursuing a variance, or exemption from state law, and they have every intention of doing so.
But Duval Health Department Environmental Health Director Scott Turner says there have been no local cases where an establishment opened and specifically wanted to have animals allowed inside the bar area.
“We haven’t seen that locally approved as of yet. I’m not aware of any facility currently in Duval County that has that allowance,” he said.
Stillman said he’s started looking into that variance option, but it’s a long and tedious process. Meanwhile, formerly pet friendly bars and breweries will just have to play a waiting game until health officials change their mind or legislators can get bars and breweries an exemption from the rule.