UNION — Kean University may have paved the road for Ursino Restaurant to open without anyone having to jump through the usual legal hoops, but not paying taxes? The township was not about to let that happen.
Late last fall the township decided the campus gourmet restaurant that opened in 2011 in the Center for Science, Technology and Math Education, received a surprise in the mail — a tax bill for $50,000.
Although state universities and colleges are not required to pay local taxes, or for that matter even go before local municipal planning and zoning boards when erecting a new building, township officials felt a profit making restaurant should pay their fair share.
“There is a special provision in the law that allows a municipality to level a tax if a state run facility rents the property to a for profit business,” explained Union Township Administrator Ron Manzella.
But, while the operator of Ursino’s, Gourmet Dining Services did not object to receiving a tax bill, Manzella said they did have a problem with the amount.
“They have appealed their tax bill and it is going through the usual channels right now,” he added.
Ursino’s also avoided the usual problem most business owners face when trying to open a restaurant: obtaining a liquor license. However, because the restaurant is on state property, the operator went through the state to obtain a license to serve alcohol for $1,000.
Usually, if a proprietor wants to open a restaurant, the chance of getting a new liquor license is slim. Each municipality is only allowed a certain number of liquor licenses, depending on population. Once this number is reached, no additional licenses can be given out until a restaurant closes and the license is up for grabs.
A restaurant can, however, sell their license along with an establishment or separately, but any agreement made is between buyer and seller. According to one restaurant owner, buying a liquor license can run as high as $100,000 or more, depending on how popular an establishment is, as well as the location. A municipality does not get involved except when it comes to issuing the license.
Gourmet Dining Services, owned and operated by Frungillo Brothers, received a ten-year, no bid contract extension for food services at Kean, according to a source with knowledge of this deal.
Kean President Dawood Farahi was reported as the driving force for the creation of Ursino. He reportedly wanted to use the latest state-of-the-art building at the university to showcase a first-rate restaurant.
The two-story space, designed by Glen Cobin, is named for Polish Count Julian Ursin Niemcewicz, who married into the Kean family in 1800
The space features a wood-burning hearth, a bar made of quartz, a wine suite, a second floor bar and lounge and a rooftop area.
The green restaurant featuring farm-to-table fare that is overseen by Cranford farmer Henry Dryer of Cranford, filters its own water, cultivates bee hives and even in winter is busy producing food that will be turned into gourmet meals.
But while Ursino is supposed to be a culinary trend setter, it is bleeding money. Sources confirmed last year that while the facility is losing money, this loss will be made up by Kean’s food services contract. Enough, perhaps, to pay their tax bill, after it is appealed.