NEW PORT RICHEY — Last year on Cinco de Mayo, the little Mexican restaurant called Golden Tequila celebrated just as it had for more than a decade:
Without a drop of tequila.
Liquor licenses were harder to come by in Pasco County back then. Thanks to a 1971 state law of mysterious origin, Pasco restaurants that wanted to serve liquor had to be at least 4,000 square feet and able to serve at least 200 people.
Restaurants in most other counties fell under less restrictive state size requirements: at least 2,500 square feet and able to serve at least 150 people.
But last year Golden Tequila's landlord enlisted the help of a couple of lawmakers to make the liquor laws in Pasco on par with the state's. Last May, the legislation, which repealed the 1971 law, passed.
So Golden Tequila added an outdoor patio and enough seats to bring it up to 150 seats. And last November, after nearly 12 years in business, Golden Tequila got its special alcoholic beverage license, which allows it to serve liquor.
Today the restaurant celebrates its first Cinco de Mayo with real margaritas — not the wine-based ones it used to serve, but ones made with tequila.
Golden Tequila has 18 kinds of tequila on hand, plus vodka, Scotch and rum.
"We expect a big day," said Castulo Vasquez, who owns the restaurant at 7205 U.S. 19 in New Port Richey.
Golden Tequila isn't the only small restaurant taking advantage of the new requirements. Since last May, 16 Pasco restaurants have gotten liquor licenses, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Over that same period a year earlier, 11 had done so.
Vasquez, 43, said he hasn't crunched the numbers but has already seen an uptick in business. The license will cost him nearly $2,000 a year, but he says the investment will pay off soon.
"My customers are happy because the margaritas have tequila now," he said.
A Port Richey resident, Vasquez moved to the United States from Mexico 24 years ago to work in a Rhode Island factory that made class rings. About a dozen years ago, he moved to Florida for the warmer weather, started his restaurant and became a U.S. citizen.
Tonight, his restaurant will play the mariachi music of his youth. And, of course, margaritas are two for one.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.