MISSOULA, Mont. - The Missoula county Environmental Health department ordered Jim Adair to take his Mr. Coffee coffee pot off of the bar counter in his Missoula Jewelry store.
His old English, pub-style bar, also containing opened bottles of various alcohols, is in violation of the state food regulator's requirement for all such business concessions to be licensed.
The type of license necessary for a business to hand out food or beverage, for purchase or not, is a food purveyor's license.
It will cost a business with less than two employees $85 a year, and for a business like Adair's the license costs $115.
On top of paying an annual fee for handing out free concessions to customers, business owners must also attend food sanitation training and inform all employees on how to properly handle food.
Adair was convinced he was not in the wrong, so he fired off letters to the health department arguing that his concession did not break the three main rules: Food or drink has become a focal point, it is used as a promotion to get customers into the store, or if the concessions involve potentially hazardous foods.
A pre-sealed container is not hazardous, however pouring a drink into a glass, or arranging snacks on a plate are considered in violation of this regulation.
Shannon Therriault, the environmental health supervisor who responded to Adair's letters, says that even kids selling lemonade on the street and auto shops who offer coffee to awaiting customers are technically in violation.
But the Missoula department makes exceptions in these common instances.
"Anytime you go beyond the simple cup of tea or water and maybe the store bought doughnut," Therriault says, "then we require a license."
Adair's argument to the state was that his bar is purely decorative, and the alcohol is all his own personal stash. The Environmental Health Department decided to look the other way for the coffee machine, as they would any business.
If you know a business that offers courtesy concessions to customers, inform them that it would be wise to pay the annual fee. Violating this regulation could cost you fines up to $200 a day, per day of offense.
In the case of a critical violation, the health department could even shut a business down.
Adair is temporarily off the hook. But if there is a complaint later down the road, he could face bigger issues.