Billy’s on Grand, an iconic St. Paul bar/restaurant now owned by the DWD Group, will be back before a legislative hearing officer in early 2022.
The DWD Group is led by hospitality veteran Wesley Spearman, with Chuck Gilbert as manager. As is typical with most St. Paul bar/restaurant transactions, new owners can operate under the former owner’s licenses and license conditions until the City Council approves new ones. Bill Wengler and his family owned and operated Billy’s on Grand for most of its 36 years in business. The business was sold in 2020, and again in early 2021.
DWD Group is requesting a 2 a.m. closing time, as well as other licenses held by the previous Billy’s owners. Although the 2 a.m. closing time is allowed under state law, it typically gets additional scrutiny in St. Paul. Billy’s currently closes at midnight Sunday through Wednesday and at 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
The neighborhood district council recommended approval of the licenses but asked that an earlier closing time of 1 a.m. be considered. Other licenses sought are: liquor on sale - 291 or more seats, Sunday liquor on sale, liquor outdoor service area/patio, entertainment class B and a gambling license.Ten neighbors filed objections to the licenses, with most focused on the 2 a.m. closing.
A legislative hearing officer recommended approval of all licenses last October, but in December the City Council sent the request back for another hearing. The city’s Department of Safety and Inspections, along with the City Attorney’s Office, informed Ward Two Council Member Rebecca Noecker that a new potential adverse action is pending against Billy’s. An adverse action is a reported violation of license conditions. Details were not available.
At a recent neighborhood meeting and legislative hearing, Owner Spearman and Gilbert said they want to be good neighbors by operating the business in a way that respects the surrounding Summit Hill community. They emphasized their employee training and best practices.
But what hangs over the pending request is a fatal shooting outside of Billy’s in September 2020, although it happened prior to the current ownership.
Billy’s had a 2 a.m. closing time under its two previous owners, but neighbors contend the 2 a.m. closing time causes noise and disruption in the area around Billy’s due to loud patrons, property damage, engines revving and drag racing. The new owners have disputed those claims. A deciding factor will be whether the claimed violations can be traced back to Billy’s or to other area businesses.
In October Deputy Legislative Hearing Officer Nhia Vang indicated that nothing in the applicants’ background and management of the business thus far warrants denial of the licenses. Vang also stated that the new owners should be given an opportunity to manage the business accordingly, and that they have agreed to the proposed license conditions.