In Light of ABC Troubles Vagabond Kitchen Limits Hours

//In Light of ABC Troubles Vagabond Kitchen Limits Hours

In Light of ABC Troubles Vagabond Kitchen Limits Hours

When we opened Vagabond Kitchen on June 8th of last year, some things were still a little rough around the edges. We were figuring out a new menu, with new staff, in a new location. I don’t mind telling you the learning curve was a little steep.

As most of you know, one of our main concerns was the situation with the liquor license. We were told by hotel management that we would be able to get our own license in July.

“OK,” I thought, how does a restaurant in Downtown Wheeling survive for a month without a liquor license?” Simple. Pull a feather out of the hats of bigger cities across the country and do a BYOB establishment. We checked with the city. They were OK with it. We checked with the state. They definitely weren’t psyched, but the ABCA in Charleston told me that if we didn’t have a license, then it would be up to local law to enforce the violation. And there are, in fact, several BYOB places in the state of WV. Since local government had given us the greenlight, we went with it.

The red light came on the day of Halloween. The owner of the bar next door, Robert Weimer, had tried several times to either get me to buy him out, or get us to work for him. He reached out to me through channels in the beginning, offering to sell me the bar for $60k ¬ The bar that he does not own, the bar he rents from the McLure, the bar in which he owns no equipment, and the bar most people don’t even know exists. He indicated to me that his price was extremely reasonable. I would be getting name recognition … and the license.

His response to my disagreeing that buying his bar would be sound business was to instead have my servers run back and forth to his bar to serve his alcohol to our guests.

So we could work for him for free? That also does not seem like a sound business decision to me.
This all came to a head at the end of October leading up to our now famous Halloween Bash. I received a call from Shawn Smith of WV ABCA. We had already spoken several times, and on this call he informed me that if we did not cease doing BYOB, we would jeopardize our possibilities of ever getting a liquor license in this state. Since I plan on being in business in my home state for the rest of my life, I pulled BYOB from the event and ever-after from the Kitchen.

The Halloween Party was an amazing success, nevertheless.

Since that time, we have been trying unsuccessfully to work with the hotel and Mr. Weimer to reach an accord. Hotel Management has admitted to me that when they made the deal with Mr. Weimer to remove the banquet hall and restaurant from his liquor license in exchange for a thousand dollar decrease in rent, they “made a big mistake,” and didn’t get anything in writing.

Throughout this struggle with “the booze situation” we have been trying to build our dinners. We began offering nightly features, then added a special features menu, all along staffing and buying food for dining rooms of guests who just weren’t showing up. And I totally understand.

When I go out for dinner, especially a nice dinner, I want to enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer. We kept holding on, hoping that “any day now”, we’d be able to get our license. When that dream was finally, seemingly squashed a couple of weeks ago, I had to take stock as a business owner.

I want to give Wheeling a dinner crowd. I want to get people to come back down here after work. I want them to take advantage of Heritage Port and the Capitol and the Arena. If we’re going to grow as a downtown and a cultural center, a night life is instrumental …. I just don’t know if we can get there without some booze.

For those reasons, it looks like the smartest decision at this point is to restrict our hours and remove dinner from our schedule on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We will still open by appointment for catered events, but I can’t keep staffing an empty restaurant. This will give us the opportunity to focus on what we’re good at, grow our menus and techniques, stay an active part of our community’s events, and build towards a long and prosperous future. I may also get a full night’s sleep, which would be awesome.

I’m sure some people will say that this is the beginning of the end for the Vagabond Kitchen. Those people will be dead-ass wrong. There are huge things on the horizon, things that will change the very landscape of our city, we just have to survive as a business until the right time.

Reinventing Wheeling will not be easy, it will not be overnight, and it will take our whole community’s focus and energy. And it will happen.

Last week I was offered an amazing position out of town to run my own kitchen, make twice as much as I’ve ever made in my life, along with 401k, PTO, and a three-story house to boot. This position is in a great place in the state of West Virginia, I love the owners, they do amazing business, and there are always butts-in-seats. When they asked me to come on, I had to sit down with a glass of bourbon and really think it over: Katie and I have moved back into our RV, our financial statements are aren’t as much statements as they are questions, and we’ve been working seven days a week for over a year.

I turned that position down.

I turned it down because I really do believe in Wheeling. I believe in Vagabond Kitchen. I believe this struggle to be worthwhile. Besides, taking the easy way isn’t the #vagabondway.




  1. Rose June 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks for believing in the future and Wheeling. Your struggles at this time will breed success in time. Be at peace and pray for courage to keep making difficult decisions.

  2. Chuck Wood June 4, 2015 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    Matt –
    Thank you for having such strong faith in Wheeling. I hope that we, the eating public, in association with rising opportunities in Wheeling (and a liquor license, somewhere) will repay your faith.

  3. Megan Fox June 4, 2015 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    I truly believe in you guys!! Such beautiful spirits and warm hearts, open minds and inviting arms…Wheeling needs people like you and the movement you believe in!! If I can be of any help- any at all- feel free to call on me. 17 years in front house service industry from bar to table service hosting and training…if I can help- I wholeheartedly will with a smile on my face and a vagabond spirit!!

    • Wilma April 29, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

      That insight solves the prlmeob. Thanks!

  4. troy June 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    look at the Camelot,use for restaurant,wedding ,catering.don mason is the owner.

  5. matt June 5, 2015 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Transparency is the best way to keep people excited, happy and in the know. It’s great you are doing this here.
    Keep up the good work and it will all work out in the end.

  6. stephen June 6, 2015 at 9:34 pm - Reply


    It’s a bluff. Your best bet at this point is to keep doing the byob thing. If you ever have to move and you truly believe the state ABC will not grant you – a person and not an entity or business or location- a liquor licence, put it your wife’s name.
    Hopefully you can get some investors if you really want to move in Wheeling.

  7. James Bero June 19, 2015 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    I am incredibly delighted and excited to see this type of cuisine and dining experience being offered in Wheeling! As a downtown Pittsburgh resident, I am excited to see the same type of food I eat daily provided to Wheeling area residents. Wheeling is definitely in need of and in the midst of a revival, and it appears Vagabond Kitchen will continue to be a leader in the movement! I look forward to being in the area and dining with you this evening!

  8. Mike Breiding July 28, 2015 at 7:53 am - Reply

    What a nightmare!
    Now we MUST come for dinner.

    See you soon.

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