Nearly three years after she expected to do so, Christin Rowan-Adams opened her dessert and cocktail bar, Nightcap, 1401 W. Sixth St., Austin. From 2012-15, Rowan-Adams said she got past legal hurdle after legal hurdle to begin her business.

Nightcap is among the roughly 2,000 bars and restaurants Austin-based attorney Kareem Hajjar represents. Hajjar, a partner at Hajjar Peters LLP, has specialized in food and nightlife establishments since about 2004. He said bars and restaurants carry more liabilities than any other retail business.

Hajjar said when he began representing bars and restaurants in 2004, Austin was not nearly as sophisticated a culinary market as it is today.

Business owner provides glimpse into the legal side of opening a bar“The market timing was very good [for beginning a legal practice focused on bars and restaurants],” he said. “I would like to say it was a conscious decision. … It really wasn’t.”

Rowan-Adams said she cannot imagine having gone through the litany of procedures she had to complete before serving her first customer without legal representation.

“All the stuff you’re not supposed to do, I did,” she said. “As a first-time restaurateur … I had these challenging things going against me.”

Among the challenges was convincing the city and the community in which she was planning to open her business that the zoning of the property should be changed from “limited office” to “restaurant general.”

Hajjar said he is upfront with his clients about the challenges securing a zoning change or a conditional-use permit often entail.

“It’s really important to … look very plainly at whether what’s being requested will affect the fabric of that neighborhood,” he said.

She said she spent six months working with the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association before she talked to the zoning department of the city of Austin. She said the neighborhood association is among the most active in Austin.

“They’re very rigid, and [rightly] so,” Rowan-Adams said. “It’s a very beautiful neighborhood. It should kind of remain a little bit on the untouched side.”

OWANA membership voted in September 2013 to issue a letter of support for Rowan-Adams’ project at the corner of West Sixth and Pressler streets. Then came her hearing before the city of Austin Planning Commission. Her case was pushed to the very end of the meeting, she said.

“I was up there, no kidding, at 11:45 p.m.,” she said. “The commission even had to make a motion to go past midnight.”

After succeeding in getting her zoning change request approved, Rowan-Adams secured an off-site parking permit from the city. The property, which has a total of four parking spaces on-site, needed at least 21 spaces within 1,000 feet from the front door, according to the city.

The final major piece of paperwork to secure was her construction permit. Rowan-Adams said she was at the city’s Barton Springs Road permitting office every day. She was able to secure her permit in three months, which is faster than usual, she said.

“I couldn’t afford to spend any more time waiting on other people to get my stuff done,” she said. “I [was] paying rent on a building that I [could not] touch.”

Rowan-Adams said she learned a wealth of knowledge throughout the process and credits her attorney for helping her navigate it all. Opening Nightcap in May was the realization of a years-long goal, one that proved trying, she said.

“I could have had Kareem tell me every day it was going to be crazy hard [to open Nightcap], but I had no idea how hard it really is,” she said.