Illinois Passes Cocktails-To-Go, the Sudden Success of a Great Grass Roots Movement

The Illinois legislature resoundingly passed cocktails-to-go last Saturday. The legislation’s passage represented a great victory for the struggling Illinois hospitality community. And on Tuesday Governor Pritzker said he will sign it when the clerk presents him the bill.

With any legislation passing, especially one that makes a major change to the liquor system, there are always some interesting stories. One story in particular is the emergence of Cocktails-For-Hope (CFH), a grass roots effort that developed out of the blue in March and all the sudden became a major player.

A Cocktail Queen, an Irish Liquor Lawyer, and a Digital Master Come Together

Cocktails-For-Hope was started in March by Julia Momose and Ian Beacraft, they wanted to change the laws in Illinois to allow for Illinois bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go.

In March Julia was considered a mover and shaker, just not in politics. Julia made Chicago Magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in Chicago. There was no doubt she is the Cocktail Queen and has a national reputation to prove it. Coming to America from Japan to attend Cornell University, her path took her into the hospitality industry. She is a partner in a widely respected restaurant named Kumiko. Her artistry in cocktails put her into the highest echelons of the hospitality industry.

Julia was busy building a rapidly developing career and never engaged in politics. Before, she never even reached out to any of her local politicians in the area where her business resides.

Ian Beacraft is a Digital Master; he works in digital strategy and innovation. Ian’s expertise and use of technology is so advance, it makes you believe he came from 50 years into the future. Ian may have had some experience in politics but it was very little. But Ian loves Kumiko and especially its cocktails. When he heard what the pandemic was doing to the hospitality industry, he got motivated to join the fray.

Myself, the Irish Liquor Lawyer, found out about Cocktails-For-Hope from my good friend Eric Fine. Julia Momose and I had a quick phone call to discuss. She told me how the struggling bars and restaurants needed the money from cocktails to survive this terrible pandemic and she wanted to change the law to help them. She also wanted to follow all the rules and not do anything without formal guidance from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission or the City of Chicago.

How could I not help someone that was dedicating her time to help a struggling industry and someone that was ethical and honest.

I told her that we would go to work instantly and find a way to work together and get this done.

The Beginning wasn’t promising

I would be lying if I told you this was an easy process. There were many bumps in the roads.

We first decided to go for an executive order to allow for the sale of cocktails-to-go. Governors in numerous big states like California and New York issued these orders, so it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. We felt it was easier to get the Illinois Liquor Control Commission (ILCC) and the Governor to get on board versus the legislature.

Unfortunately, the ILCC put out two separate bulletins clarifying that cocktails-to-go was prohibited under Illinois law.

Julia and I had a conversation that night and decided we wouldn’t give up. We opened up communication with the ILCC to understand their concerns about the issue.

Also, during this time, I had a call with one of my great mentors Richard Blau. As always, I received sage advice from Richard and we mapped out a new direction.

CFH was resilient and we knew that the executive order route would be very difficult. Now we decided to work on the legislative route.  We also knew we needed to convince around 170 legislators versus a smaller group of executive branch members.

Captain video and a blog gets the message out and a great messenger delivers

As we decided that our movement needed to become bigger. We needed to build a message that would become widely disseminated.

Ian took to the airwaves making videos that got our message to the public, and I started writing in my blog about this issue, it became a game changer. People started hearing and reading about our campaign and the public groundswell started. People wanted to become an active part of Cocktails-To-Go and started contacting us and getting involved.

Our campaign that hit many road bumps started to pick up momentum.

Next thing you know, we are all over the news. Julia is everywhere- on tv, newspapers, magazines, and podcasts. Ian does a couple of stints on tv and radio. And yes, I started getting called to be on tv and in news publications.

Our message was out there and was well delivered. Julia in her cool and calm collected manner was delivering a positive message and is a great face to our campaign. She delivered a poised and confident message that gave our movement great credibility. Word was getting out about CFH, it seemed every day I woke up, we were in the news.

CFH was here and it was here to stay. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Colleen Rooney, our PR Specialist for helping us through the process. There are people you never see in a movement that are invaluable.

Legislative work

Since we knew we needed legislative support, we started reaching out to our contacts. Already being a liquor lobbyist, I reached out to several legislators I knew that were well versed in the liquor world.

Ian reached out to a freshman legislator, Lindsey LaPointe. Lindsey was incredible and organized a bi-partisan legislative group to discuss issues with cocktails-to-go. We especially need to thank along with Lindsey, Yoni Pizer, Tim Butler, Ann Williams, and Sara Feigenholtz. And if I am forgetting anyone forgive me, it has been a crazy week. This legislative group sought to understand our needs and help the hospitality community. Their concern and motivation to help was invaluable.

As CFH wanted to be a positive force, I presented proposals to legislators drafting the bill. Our group wanted something positive for the hospitality community, and something to help maintain the health and safety of the community.

I worked with Senator Feigenholtz discussing the bill and its language and we were very happy with her finished product. She took great care to write the bill and has an uncanny knack for writing liquor legislation which is very difficult.

Legislative Support

For our grassroots to be successful we needed to build a grassroots effort and do it fast. It was the beginning of May, the legislative session ended May 23rd and we needed member support very fast.

Ian, the man with no experience running a political campaign, mobilized a campaign targeting law makers and it seemed every five minutes another new legislator was supporting our cause.

The hospitality community was working with us to reach out to its members. The political advocacy was in turbo drive.

I contacted some of my legislative contacts and the case was easy to make. We were getting there.

By the time the House and Senate convened in Springfield, we had over 60 supporters for our cause.

Partnering with Industry Groups

CFH also started successful partnerships with industry groups such as the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association (ILBA), the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA), and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA). We partnered with these great organizations and kept in communication with them during the process. They became not only partners but supporters of CFH. We need to thank Sam Toia, Mary Kay Bonoma, and Matt Quinn from IRA, Alec Laird from IRMA, and Dan Clausner from ILBA.

Getting It Over the Finish Line

Saturday, we waited until around 10 pm to get the news that the legislation passed. It was a nerve racking week. And you began to hear different messages, would there be a sunset in the law, is there opposition from this group or that group, some members don’t like something about the bill, etc.  These messages put you on edge, but at the same time we were confident in our message and proposal. Finally, Saturday night came, 56-0 in the Senate and 104-6 in the house.  We cherished a hard fought victory.

Final Thoughts

This was an amazing grassroots effort, a group that had started a little over two months ago by two political novices that picked up an Irish Liquor Lawyer along the way, got a bill passed almost unanimously that made a distinct change to the Illinois liquor system.

If you told me the story, I wouldn’t believe it, I lived through it though, and sometimes I still can’t believe it is true.

But when you have a motivated, intelligent, and focused group, anything is possible, even helping to save the Illinois hospitality community could become the result.

I am truly blessed to work with Julia and Ian. They are people dedicated to a great cause and people of immense talents; I would go to battle with them any day!

Finally, I also need to thank other team members that were invaluable; Bobby Corsentino, who always read my blog, Jeff Brown, Mike Melazzo, and Erich Wennberg. Thank you for your contributions. There were many others in the background that helped, they were all invaluable!