The City Council has directed city staff to seek a variance to a state rule that bans dogs from taprooms and coffee shops.
City Council Member Lisa Goodman set the process in motion after a constituent contacted her last fall about an experience at Sisyphus Brewing. The taproom is located in Lowry Hill neighborhood, part of Goodman’s Ward 7.
“He was enjoying a beer at Sisyphus Brewing when a health inspector came in and nailed Sisyphus for allowing dogs, and (he asked) what could I do about it?” Goodman said. “And I could not figure out, to be honest, what was illegal — because I know the rules and regulations, and I know the big issue is you can’t have dogs where food is prepared. But Sisyphus is a brewpub, and brewpubs by nature are not allowed to have food.”
As Goodman later found out, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture defines water as food. Beer, being mostly water, fits the definition, and a state Health Department rule prohibits live animals from the premises of a food establishment in most cases.
Goodman — a dog owner who has served on the board of the Animal Humane Society and led a successful effort to open three downtown dog parks — was incredulous.
“You could not make this stuff up,” she said.
Goodman learned the staff direction had to originate in the Council’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee, so she enlisted the help of a colleague on that committee, Andrew Johnson. The Ward 12 alderman is, like Goodman, a dog lover; he posed with a dog in the photo that appears on his page of the city’s website.
Johnson had heard similar complaints from constituents. He said Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar in Ward 12’s Standish neighborhood used to set out dog bowls but stopped when they heard from a city inspector.
Johnson argued the state rules shouldn’t apply to establishments where “minimal food preparation” occurs, like taprooms and coffee shops.
“There’s people out there who shed more than some dogs, and there’s dogs who are more well-behaved than some patrons of restaurants and breweries,” he said.
The rule change wouldn’t apply to full-service restaurants, and each business would be able to decide whether or not to allow dogs, he added.
Sisyphus Brewing didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Ethan Applen of Lakes and Legends Brewing in Loring Park said he supported the rule change.
“I would say the number-one call we get from customers is whether or not we allow dogs,” Applen, the brewery’s co-founder and CEO said.
He said brewing at his facility is a “totally closed process,” making the risk of contamination from dogs in the taproom miniscule.
“From the minute the grains go in for the boil, the beer never touches the air again until it comes out of the tap,” he said.
Applen, a dog owner, said breweries are community gathering places, and in other states, like Colorado, it’s common to see dogs in taprooms. In a dense residential neighborhood like Loring Park, dog owners want to be able to go out with their pets, he said.
Johnson said they aim to acquire the variance quickly, with a target implementation date of June 15 or sooner. A change.org petition in support of the change had 189 signatures as of Thursday evening.