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Forum News Service, Published December 16 2013

Zorbaz seeks continued 2 a.m. closing

SPICER, Minn. – The only bar in Kandiyohi County that is permitted to stay open until 2 a.m. is seeking approval to continue the extended operation time for 2014.

The Spicer City Council is expected to decide Tuesday on whether to grant the annual permit to Zorbaz for a third year.

Scott Schulte, who co-owns and operates Zorbaz in Spicer, said that extra hour every day generates revenue that’s not only good for his business, employees and customers, but it also provides an additional economic bump to Spicer.

Schulte said he hopes the permit is granted.

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog said he hopes it is not.

Citing statistics for the number of police calls to Zorbaz and the types of incidents his officers respond to, Hartog said he opposes the 2 a.m. bar closing.

“I’m not in favor of it,” he said.

So far in 2013, the Sheriff’s Office has responded to 52 incidents at Zorbaz that occurred after midnight.

Of those 52 calls, 22 of them happened after 2 a.m.

According to Hartog, the types of incidents reported at Zorbaz include assault, fighting, disorderly conduct, theft and urinating in public.

He said deputies are not seeing the same number of calls or types of incidents at other bars in Spicer that close at 1 a.m.

So far in 2013 there has been one “suspicious person” call at the American Legion in Spicer, which is across the street from Zorbaz, and no police calls to Indulge Steakhouse.

At O’Neil’s, which re-opened this summer, Hartog said there’s been a report of a suspicious person, a call for assistance and a traffic complaint.

Hartog attributed the issues at Zorbaz to “another hour of drinking” that attracts people that leave bars that close at 1 a.m.

“Cars are coming from Willmar to Zorbaz, just because they’re the only ones open until then,” said Hartog.

Schulte acknowledged people come to Zorbaz after other bars close, but he said Zorbaz provides food and beverage as late as possible as a convenience to customers.

In an industry where failure rates run high, Schulte said hospitality businesses need to take advantage of every opportunity to increase revenue.

In Minnesota, bars can stay open until 2 a.m. seven days a week, with approval of the local city council.

Zorbaz is located in 11 Minnesota communities and all but one stay open until 2 a.m., said Schulte, who did not respond to a question about police calls being an issue at their other locations.

But Schulte said the police calls to Zorbaz in Spicer would “not go away” if they closed at 1 a.m.

“They will spread to neighboring establishments, and not be so focused on Zorbaz alone,” he said, adding that Zorbaz hires private security and he is at the bar/restaurant every weekend to monitor activities.

Despite those efforts, the Sheriff’s Office has a heavy presence in Spicer on weekends.

Hartog said four to five deputies are typically on duty to cover the entire county each weekend with two or three of those officers in Spicer during evening and early morning hours. He said deputies in fully marked squad cars patrol Zorbaz during closing time to prevent fights in the parking lot.

“Just the presence there reduces a lot of problems that could happen,” said Hartog. “That’s why the deputies are there. We try to be proactive.”

The county currently does not receive additional compensation from Zorbaz, and Hartog said the county may need to examine if the contracted hours of service with the city of Spicer are adequate.

In the summer months, Spicer pays the county for 30 hours a week of police coverage and 20 hours a week in winter months.

Schulte said he was surprised by the number of police calls that Hartog attributed to Zorbaz.

Schulte said he regularly attends Spicer City Council meetings “and the council, mayor and the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Department have been very complimentary of the way Zorbaz is managed.”

He said, “They appreciate the fact that I am a very hands-on operator, and haven’t overtly expressed concern that they are receiving, or responding to, an abnormal amount of calls considering our location and appeal as a tourist destination.”

From a law enforcement perspective, Hartog said this past summer did go better than in 2012 when deputies were paid to be inside the bar. But he said there are still “things going on after 2 o’clock, after everyone’s leaving the bar” that results in his opposition of the 2 a.m. closing time.

But Hartog said the decision is up to the Spicer City Council.

Last year the council approved the permit on a 3-1 vote.