WHEN YOU PULL OUT YOUR Unicard, you are not buying a beverage, you are being served one. This subtle distinction has made a lot of money for David M. Ivy Sr., president and founder of Unicard Systems Inc. With the purchase of a Unicard, a patron is inducted unceremoniously into a club whose members legally and unknowingly combine their efforts to purchase a very, very large quantity of booze in “dry” areas of Dallas.
The disjointed districting of wet and dry areas in Dallas is a hangover of the post-Prohibition “30s, when Texas chose to become a “local option” state, passing alcohol decisions to political subdivisions. Redis-tricting would be the rational option, but red tape prevents such a sense-driven solution.
A provision (read: loophole) in the Alcohol Beverage Code permits private clubs, including and especially those in dry areas, to serve-not sell-alcohol to their members. Public restaurants operating a private club, however, can be burdened with the expensive and daunting task of abiding by the imbibing restrictions. Permits for large restaurants often cost more than $30,000 a year and the paperwork involved includes keeping membership committee minutes, a maintained club roster, written “preliminary” applications for membership and verifying current membership before service.
Founded in 1990, the Unicard appeases the club laws for serving alcohol and complies with the intricate, complex and bewildering restrictions of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. Ivy, a self-professed authority on liquor (though not much of a drinker), took advantage of the fact that one membership could serve an unlimited number of restaurants and clubs, computerized the tracking system and reaped the bountiful benefits of offering such a service. Restaurants pay a fee to Unicard before deciding how much to charge customers for “initiation.” There are nearly 500 clubs currently subscribing to the Unicard system, with about 1 million people carrying valid cards at any given time.
“While largely unnoticed,” says Ivy, “Unicard has had, and is having, a profound influence on large areas of Texas, particularly around Dallas, in fostering business activity, employment and real estate development as restaurants find they can now easily expand into suburban areas.”
It’s enough to drive you to drink.