- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

Virginia’s meal-assembly stores, the kitchens that chop up and set up the ingredients for customers to put together weeks worth of meals, would be able to provide beer and wine to private parties under a bill being considered by the General Assembly.

The stores wouldn’t be able to charge for the wine or beer under an amendment added to appease restaurant owners, who were concerned that the stores would be able to operate like bars, said Julia Hammond, director of government relations at the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association. The organization, which has restaurant members, wasn’t opposed to the bill, but it did push for the amendment.

Instead, the stores would have to offer the beer or wine free of charge and absorb the cost in other ways, likely increasing prices for the meals. Alcohol could be distributed only to patrons who sign up for a session ahead of time, and they would be limited to two glasses of beer or wine.

Meal-assembly stores have grown in popularity since they first opened in the Washington area in late 2004 under names such as Let’s Dish, Dream Dinners and Thyme Out. The Easy Meal Prep Association said 26 of them are operating in Virginia.

Groups of friends sometimes meet to assemble meals, and many stores wanted to be able to offer them drinks.

The bill, proposed by Delegate Terrie L. Suit, Virginia Beach Republican, passed the House of Delegates and is now before the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.

Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican, proposed a version of the bill after a request from a constituent who owns a meal-assembly store, said Eve Barner, a legislative aide.

The Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee voted down that bill but received the amended version last week.

Mr. Cuccinelli “supports the concept and hopes the Senate committee will give this thorough consideration,” Ms. Barner said.

Region gets anotherRestaurant Week

Silver Spring has jumped into the Restaurant Week fray. The Maryland city will host its first week of reduced menu prices from Feb. 5 to 11.

The 23 participating restaurants, which include Crisfield Seafood Restaurant and Jackie’s Restaurant, both on Georgia Avenue, plan to sell two-course lunches for $12 and three-course dinners for $22 or $30.

The complete list of participating restaurants is available at www.silverspringdowntown.com.

It’s the third Restaurant Week in the area. The District began its Restaurant Week in 2001, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase followed in the summer of 2005.

“This is a quiet time in the restaurant world in terms of people going out,” said Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager for the Silver Spring Regional Center, which is sponsoring the event with the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce. “This is an opportunity to promote what we have here and to encourage people to continue to come to the restaurants.”

The District’s semiannual Restaurant Week can increase business 15 percent to 200 percent at participating restaurants, according to the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corp.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkornwashingtontimes.com.

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