Bill Targets Smoking Rooms

As David Myers dined at one of his favorite hometown restaurants, he saw cigarette smoke from the separate dining room, supposedly sealed off from non-smokers, seep toward diners seated nearby.
“We no longer go to that restaurant,” Myers said. “The room is supposed to be under negative pressure so that doesn’t happen, but it does.”
Myers, the Republican state senator for District 20, has since authored a bill that aims to shutter separate smoking rooms in Oklahoma restaurants. The bill is in committee at the state capitol.
SB 1036 would stop restaurants from creating smoking rooms after Sept. 1. Existing smoking rooms are to be smoke free by next September.
“I believe it’s a health issue,” Myers said. “There is plenty of data that says second-hand smoke contains chemicals harmful to the body. I believe that, in this case, the common good outweighs that the government may be interfering.”
SB 1036 comes after the 2003 state law that requires restaurants and other public facilities to seal off rooms for patrons who smoke. The rooms were to be enclosed, exhausted to the outside and under negative air pressure to prevent smoke escaping into nonsmoking areas. A 2008 bill similar to SB 1036, also authored by Myers, was smothered on the floor by lawmakers concerned about the affect the bill would have on the bottom line of Oklahoma hospitality businesses.
Several local restaurant owners oppose the new bill, citing it singles out certain types of operators.
“SB 1036 creates a scenario in which restaurant operators are put at a competitive disadvantage against bars, so long as people are allowed to smoke in bars and not in restaurants,” said Elliot Nelson, the Blue Dome District restaurateur behind McNellie’s Public House and El Guapo’s Mexican Cantina.
“It needs to be a blanket law one way or another. I think SB 1036 makes exceptions for cigar bars and some other things, which will just drive people to exploit the loopholes,” he said.
Nelson also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, which represents more than 4,000 in the restaurant business across the state. According to recent reports, ORA opposes the bill. Myers said he plans to meet with ORA officials soon to discuss their grievances. Repeated calls to ORA for comment went unreturned.
“We’re doing a two-step process toward something that should have been put into effect a long time ago,” said Robert Johnson, director of operations at Cowboy Sharkies, 5840 S. Memorial Drive, which features a smoking room. “Lawmakers were wishy-washy, creating an unlevel playing field and hoping businesses would spend thousands to adapt or give it up. Six years later they’re in a position they could have resolved a long time ago, without forcing businesses that needed to compete to spend money they shouldn’t have had to spend.”
Tulsa restaurant owners have spent $30-100K to build smoking rooms at their facilities, “but, as I understand them, IRS rules will allow them to fully depreciate any capital improvements made by a restaurant in seven years,” Myers said.
Myers said he is willing to negotiate the implementation time line with restaurant owners who have built smoking rooms recently.
Abdul Alhlou said he spent about $40,000 on his smoking room at Silver Flame Steakhouse, 6100 S. Sheridan Road.
“When 10 percent of your business gives you 25 percent of your profit, it’s hard,” Alhlou said of how shuttering his smoking room could affect his bottom line. “It’s not fair to us that smoking is allowed at the bar next door, but my customers can’t smoke here.”
“Nationwide research says that when you enforce smoking restrictions, businesses don’t suffer. I’m not buying the argument that it will hurt business at a restaurant,” Myers said. “Actually, some restaurants have seen these smoking rooms sitting with less than 20 percent occupancy. They might as well be converted.
“Nearly 30 other states have adopted legislation similar to or tougher than this bill. It’s going to get here sooner or later.”
Dilly Deli in Sight
The opening of the anticipated Dilly Deli seems to finally be on the horizon.
The downtown sandwich shop project is the brainchild of the Blue Dome District restaurateur Elliot Nelson, who also owns McNellie’s Public House, El Guapo’s Mexican Cantina and Tiny Lounge. The shop is scheduled to open next month.
The cafe and deli will be at Second Street and Elgin Avenue. The menu will feature gourmet sandwiches, salads, soups, coffee and baked goods.
Tulsa Franchises Head to Houston
Two restaurant chains hatched in Tulsa spread their wings last month as they headed down to Houston.
Beautiful Brands International, parent company of Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe, Coney Beach and FreshBerry Frozen Yogurt Cafe, founded by Tulsans David and Camille Rutkauskas, opened the doors of its first FreshBerry in that other oil capital of the world.
The newest member of the FreshBerry group set up shop in the Vintage Park Shopping Center on Vintage Park Boulevard in Houston. Franchisees are Lee and Vanessa Kellough and Anthony and Jacqueline Taylor.
The first FreshBerry opened in Tulsa a year ago. Five more FreshBerry locations will open by the end of the first quarter. More than 35 units are in development in Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, California and Arizona.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City-based Jimmy’s Egg Franchise Systems, a breakfast and lunch chain that opened one of its first locations in Tulsa on Brookside, signed a development agreement for the Houston area late last month.
The 10-store development includes all of Harris County. The deal marks the chain’s first entrance into the Texas market under the Jimmy’s Egg Franchise Systems name. The chain also has development partners in Kansas and Missouri.
The break into the Houston market “solidifies our plan to build Jimmy’s Egg into a national restaurant chain,” said Jim Burke, manager of Jimmy’s Egg Franchise Systems LLC.
The past 90 days have brought three openings as the chain launched sites in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Wichita. Five Jimmy’s Egg locations are in the works in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma and are slated to open by summer.

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