Mecklenburg County appears to be cracking down on breweries that allow dogs inside their taprooms.
Health inspectors have cited three of Charlotte’s breweries in the past few months for having dogs inside, according to county records. That’s after two years without any citations.
In response, at least one brewery — Three Spirits Brewery — is now explicitly prohibiting dogs from inside their taproom.
The health inspectors are citing a little known but long-standing state regulation that prohibits animals from food service establishments — breweries included.
In the past few years, the penalty has been small enough where some brewery owners decided to take a hit on their health inspection score and keep on letting pets inside. Mecklenburg County officials are now warning that they won’t let that slide. Brewery owners would be advised to tread carefully.
It’s unclear whether more breweries will decide to formally stop letting dogs inside.
Mecklenburg County says that technically, dogs are not allowed inside any establishment with a restaurant permit.
The Agenda checked, and that includes all 17 of Charlotte’s breweries.
The N.C. Department of Public Health rules regulating restaurants say that dogs are not allowed anywhere inside a food establishment unless it’s a service dog or police patrol dog.
Even breweries that don’t have kitchens have restaurant permits because they have glass-washing stations, said Lynn Lathan, the county health department’s environmental supervisor.
The rule has been in place since at least the 1980s, the county says.
“Restricting animals from dining areas of food establishments is not anything new,” said Rebecca Carter, spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County Health Department.
If you want to read the state rules, you can here.
Breweries that have full kitchens have already barred dogs from inside.
Both Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and Sugar Creek Brewing said they are required to keep dogs outside because they have kitchens and serve food.
“Dogs are always allowed outside,” said Jocelyn Ruark of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.
But other breweries are apparently subject to the same rules. Will things now change for them?
This is where the situation is more unclear — and where Mecklenburg County’s crackdown has come.
Several breweries told the Agenda that they were told they could have dogs inside if they did not serve food. Mecklenburg County is saying that’s not the case.
A few other breweries said they’re able to take a one-point deduction on their health inspection and continue to allow dogs inside. The county’s recent actions have signaled that will no longer be OK.
Three Spirits Brewery told the Agenda that they were told they’d have to explicitly ban dogs immediately.
“They have to abate the problem. It’s just not allowed,” Lathan, the county environmental supervisor said. “We do hold the operators responsible.”
That leaves breweries walking a fine line.
Phil Buchy, owner of Legion Brewing in Plaza Midwood, said he considers his brewery “dog friendly to friendly dogs.” But he has to stay mindful of where they go.
“We’ve got all the dog watering bowls outside. We try to passively encourage them to be outside,” Buchy said. “We want to keep the public happy and not get in trouble. It’s a tight rope.”
It’s unclear what’s driving the change of heart. Lathan acknowledged that the county has received several complaints in recent months about dogs inside of breweries.
Three Spirits Brewery said the action against them came after a complaint was filed.
But Lathan said it’s mostly because as the weather turns cold, more people are wanting to bring dogs inside.
“A piece of this is the popularity of taking your pets everywhere, coupled with the fact that it’s now cold. People who used to have their dogs in outdoor settings are now wanting to bring them inside,” she said. “It’s also possible that there’s an urban legend that it’s OK.”
Take heart, dogs are still allowed on patios and outside drinking areas.
The rules on this are clear. As long as the dog is outside, on a patio or outdoor dining area, everything is OK.
What about Lucky Dog?
This might leave you wondering what will happen with Lucky Dog, the dog bar in Wesley Heights. Turns out it doesn’t have a restaurant permit. It’s regulated as a kennel, so it should be fine.
Want to keep bringing your dog inside?
If this is something important to you, contact your elected officials. It’s going to take a change at the state level, not just here in Mecklenburg.
“The public wants it changed. Obviously, dogs and breweries go together,” Buchy of Legion Brewing said. “It’s definitely something that needs to get adjusted.”