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County OKs restaurant's bid for beer license

May 21, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Burris Roadhouse and Trading Company sits within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The Burris Roadhouse and Trading Company reached a first step toward obtaining a liquor license, raising questions about alcohol sales on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Owner Wes Wiginton, though, said he just wants to serve a beer with his sandwiches.

The Burris Roadhouse is located in the Burris area, about fives miles northwest of Crowheart on U.S. Highway 26 and within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The restaurant seeks a license to sell malt beverages, such as beer.

The Fremont County Commission voted 2-1 to grant the malt beverage license contingent on the Burris Roadhouse obtaining a permit from the Joint Business Council of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.

Commissioners Keja Whiteman and Stephanie Kessler voted for the measure, and chairman Doug Thompson voted against it.

Commissioners Larry Allen and Travis Becker were not at the meeting.

Steven Campbell, assistant attorney general for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, brought a letter to the commission stating that federal law would require the Burris Roadhouse to comply with tribal liquor code and obtain a tribal liquor license.

"The tribe is opposed to any unilateral liquor license issued to the above federal law," he stated in the letter.

At the meeting, Campbell said the tribal liquor code applies to all businesses within the exterior boundaries of the reservation. The Joint Business Council has the authority to issue tribal liquor licenses.

Thompson said he also thought law required a permit from both tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation and from the county for the Burris Roadhouse to sell alcohol.

Campbell said the Joint Business Council wanted to emphasize its position on the law.

"They did not describe any position as to the merits of your application," he said. "Just that you would need to apply for (a tribal liquor license)."

Campbell said Wiginton could get in touch with the Joint Business Council's clerk to start the process.

"There will be people (who are) probably for it and people who are against because of personal experience with issues of alcohol," Campbell said.

The commissioners asked if other businesses were licensed to sell alcohol on the reservation.

Campbell said the Shoshone Rose Casino might pursue a liquor license after its expansion is complete.

"There may be, in the future, a possibility, but that would be over a year away ... there may be a request for a liquor license there," he said.

Wiginton said he wants to sell beer with the sandwiches and barbecue he serves.

"We're not staying open until 2 o'clock in the morning," he said. "We're not in any shape, form or fashion trying to put in a bar."

He said he would not advertise off-sale liquor sales, but he would sell package beer to people who asked for it. Wiginton said his business also buys and sells outdoor goods and vehicles, operates a café and is hoping to establish a hotel.

"We're trying to rebuild the town of Burris," he said.

Thompson said the license Wiginton seeks would allow him to establish a bar even if he chooses not to do so.