INDIANAPOLIS — A food truck handing out free burritos with a long line of lunch-goers stretching down the sidewalk formed the backdrop for a Tuesday press conference outside the Statehouse.
People began to trickle up to the truck window, and reporters set up their cameras before the podium where Jay Ricker, chairman of Ricker’s convenience stores, was about to speak. Tunes like “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson floated from the truck before the press conference began.
The food truck, Ricker said, was the original inspiration for the company’s new food concept — in-store Tex-Mex restaurants. In the past week, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to close a loophole in state law that allowed Ricker’s to sell cold beer, which it had begun to do at its Columbus, Indiana, and Sheridan, Indiana, locations. The stores, which would otherwise only be able to sell un-chilled alcohol, obtained restaurant alcohol permits so they could legally employ their new business strategy.
The press conference came the day after a House committee voted to allow Ricker’s to continue to sell the cold beer — that is, until its two current licenses expire next January, at which time the stores will likely not meet new renewal requirements, Ricker said.
The House Public Policy Committee rapidly addressed the loophole after Columbus and Sheridan Ricker’s locations opened up their restaurants by adding an amendment to an already-existing bill. Last week, a Senate committee passed a similar measure.
Ricker said he was disappointed and frustrated with the outcome of Tuesday’s committee hearing.
“We had complied with the law,” Ricker said. “The liquor lobby just has such a hold on some legislators.”
Ricker said the measure would require that 30 percent of sales come from in-store alcohol consumption if Ricker's stores wish to continue to sell cold carryout alcohol.
Not only will this likely prevent Ricker’s from renewing its license, he said, but it may also cause problems for other restaurants across the state not able to meet that 30-percent mark.
“I think it was a rush to judgement,” Ricker said at the press conference. “They really need to take a pause.”
Ricker said he’d agree to “keep the spirits” off the stores’ shelves if the legislature agreed to a very public and open summer study committee to address the issue thoroughly.
He said he doesn’t want to see this issue end up in court, and he hopes legislators will listen to their constituents, whom he claimed have overwhelmingly told him they’re frustrated with action taken in the Statehouse this past week.
Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, also spoke at the conference Tuesday. He said he hopes this incident will lead to a rewriting of what many refer to as Indiana’s byzantine alcohol laws.
“I just would note that the state of Indiana is the only state in the nation that regulates the temperature of beer at any of their facilities when they’re selling it,” Boots said.
Indiana is also known for its other strict alcohol regulations, such as one that prohibits its sale on Sundays.
The legislature has been in session for three months now and much of the legislation being considered today has been thoroughly vetted, Boots said. But this fix, he said, seems rushed.
“This has not been thought through at all,” Boots said.
While the two spoke at the podium, the clock ticked closer to lunchtime and the line of customers waiting for their free burritos lengthened.
“We want people to know this is a great food,” said Ricker, gesturing at the truck.
He said the burrito truck took a year and a half to launch.
“Do take advantage of the burritos,” he, smiling, said.