In asking a judge to decide whether a 30-year-old state statute prohibits chain restaurants from serving alcohol, the county finds itself defending a law it doesn't particularly agree with.
The law -- which bans liquor sales at chain stores, supermarkets and discount houses -- was cited in 1989 by the county's liquor board as the reason for not issuing a liquor license to a Pizza Hut restaurant in Hampstead.
The county says that for purposes of the law, a chain restaurant is a chain store, but a lawyer for the owner of the county's six Pizza Hut restaurants calls that interpretation "unreasonable, illogical and inconsistent with common sense."
Arguing before Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. Monday, William B. Dulaney, representing Pizza Hut of Maryland, said the law couldn't be more clear.
"A restaurant is not a store," he said during a long-delayed hearing in which the judge was asked to rule on the issue. "A store sells merchandise; a restaurant is in business to provide a service."
Laurell E. Taylor, an assistant county attorney, argued that the county believes that, under the law, chain restaurants and chain stores are indistinguishable.
"We think it's clear that the language in the law does apply to restaurants," she said Monday. "Why would the law mention a Class B license, when a restaurant is the only establishment that can obtain one?"
Riding on Burns' decision -- expected within a week -- is the future of chain restaurants in Carroll County. Exceptions to the chain-store liquor ban have been made for most of the counties in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.
"We don't have to like a law, but we have got to follow it," Taylor said yesterday. She said several national restaurant chains -- including Red Lobster and Chi Chi's -- have expressed interest in locating here, but are awaiting the results of the Pizza Hut suit.
In 1989, the Hampstead Pizza Hut applied for a liquor license. The county decided to ask the court to interpret the law, because the person applying for the license was an employee of Pizza Hut of Maryland.
The county has six Pizza Huts; two of them -- in the 140 Village Shopping Center in Westminster and on Liberty Road in Eldersburg -- have liquor licenses.
Should Burns rule in favor of the county, Dulaney said an appeal is "very likely." Should he rule that the law does not apply to chain restaurants, Taylor said the county may not appeal.