Gozitan raw food bistro ‘forced’ to sell alcohol

Chiropractor Nicolo Orlando says he has been unable to secure a licence from the Malta Tourism Authority for his raw food bar unless he serves alcohol in his shop – something Orlando refuses to do

Under the Catering Establishment Regulations, snack bar licences require that three kinds of beer and five kinds of spirits are served
Under the Catering Establishment Regulations, snack bar licences require that three kinds of beer and five kinds of spirits are served

The owner of a healthy food outlet has threatened to close down rather than pay for a licence which he claims forces him to sell alcoholic beverages.

Chiropractor Nicolo Orlando wanted to open Gozo’s “first and only salad bistraw” – a play on the words “bistro” and “raw” – to serve a wide range of raw food combinations and fresh juices, apart from being gluten, wheat, sugar, salt and dairy-free.

But Orlando claims that while his outlet was conceived with the aim of serving nutritious food to customers suffering from food allergies and obesity, he has been unable to secure a licence from the Malta Tourism Authority unless he serves alcohol in his shop – something Orlando refuses to do.

Under the Catering Establishment Regulations, snack bar licences require that three kinds of beer and five kinds of spirits are served.

“The MTA officials at the Gozo office said they had never heard of such a restaurant and were unable to accommodate me with a licence. After many weeks of repeating and explaining the business concept, I was told that Malta has no such licence relating to my business idea,” Orlando said.

“However, I was also led to believe that the Maltese law was being redesigned to incorporate projects like mine and therefore I was offered a temporary snack bar licence with the understanding that shortly after it would have been converted to the relative pertinent permit.”

Yet, after Orlando was allowed to open his doors for business on 1 December, 2016, he learnt that his snack bar licence obliged him to serve alcohol, not just drinks. “Basically, every catering business in the country must sell alcohol. This involves that the licensee must pay a second fee on top of the snack bar licence fee for a licence regarded as ‘alcohol contributions’.”

Orlando says he was regularly approached by the MTA office on Gozo to inquire about the quarterly invoice for the payable fee, until he was severely reprimanded for not paying this fee for two years.

So he took the matter to court, where the MTA’s legal advisor informed him in an official letter that his Green Mood bistro “was not offering a wide range of products to the public and that adding alcohol to the menu would increase the customer service and revenue.”

The MTA suggested to the court that some form of “healthy alcohol” could be incorporated in the menu, something Orlando insisted was unacceptable to him.

“I restated that I had informed the MTA from day one of the type of business I intended to run… the MTA reconfirmed that the law was in the process of changing… the final comment, however, was that ‘Mr Orlando must sell alcohol’ and that an exemption would lead to other operators trying to avoid paying the contribution fees.

“I really hope the law will change sooner than the decision on my case takes, as it may result in the discontinuation of business. If it is in favour of the alcohol licence, I will not continue Green Mood Bistraw, as selling alcohol and spirits is not the business I planned on running.”

More in National