The days of going to Fili’s Pizza in Bethel and walking away with a case of beer or wine are gone. Fili’s will continue selling beer and wine curbside and with home deliveries, but will impose tighter restrictions.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy first allowed restaurants to sell alcohol off-site in April when he closed indoor dining due to the coronavirus pandemic. On June 16, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board voted to extend these alcohol regulations through November 15.
Fili's Pizza is the only business in Bethel with an alcohol license, and the only business in town affected by the regulation.
“The idea behind the governor’s mandate was to give businesses a chance that were failing," Fili's Pizza co-owner Todd Perez explained. "We bought this business literally weeks before this whole thing went down, all the restrictions and coronavirus. We lost a lot of money.”
Some Bethel residents criticized Fili’s alcohol sales. In June, Bethel City Council voted 6-1 to allow Fili’s to continue selling beer and wine under the governor’s mandate. Council member Mark Springer was the single dissenting vote, saying that the Bethel community voted to end package alcohol sales last year, and Fili’s was acting like a package store.
Perez co-owned a package store, Caribou Liquor, that the community vote shut down. He says that people voted against hard liquor, which Fili’s doesn’t sell, adding that in that same vote, the community chose to keep restaurant beer and wine sales open. It’s helped business.
Under the state mandate, curbside alcohol sales don’t require a food purchase, but Perez says that Fili's will soon require alcohol purchasers to order food. As of last week, Fili’s began stopping curbside sales at midnight. Customers who order alcohol curbside must also leave in a vehicle.
“We didn’t want any foot traffic, is what we wanted to eliminate. I just don’t think it’s a good image as far as the city is concerned,” Perez said.
Last week, Fili’s also began limiting customers to one case of beer or six bottles of wine per order. Before, there were no limits. Perez said that home delivery rarely meets this limit. The state requires home delivery orders to include food, and any alcohol must equal at least half the cost of the food order.
“Unless you’re having a party or something like that," Perez said, "you’ll never hit the alcohol restrictions on that for the governor’s mandate.”
Perez supports home alcohol delivery, saying that people receiving beer and wine at home with a meal are not on the roads.
Operating during this pandemic is tough, but Perez said that Fili’s has not laid anyone off, and has even hired more employees in recent months. Home delivery is up, and dining in is about half of what it was when the new owners first took over. Business is steadily picking up, and Fili’s is growing along with it. The restaurant will be offering new menu items soon.
“Beef brisket sandwich, Philly cheese steak, some new appetizers," Perez listed. "We’re actually going to serve nachos in town, and it’s not going to be with some pump cheese sauce.”
Fili's will begin lunch deliveries this month, with alcohol sales not starting until 4 p.m. And it’s planning specialty nights, like Mexican Mondays, and family nights with live music.
“Bethel needs new blood and new things in the town to make it more attractive," Perez said, "and also to attract doctors, nurses, police, where if there are other things to do in town, then you have that.”
Fili’s is also donating lunch and dinner every day to the Tundra Women’s Coalition through the end of the year.