One of Tuscaloosa's best-known restaurateurs was in Montgomery Thursday to watch as Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill he has championed this year into law.

Jheovanny Gomez owns and operates the three beloved Jalapeños Mexican Grills in Tuscaloosa and Northport.

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The Bill in question was House Bill 176, which lowers the minimum age of those who are allowed to serve alcohol in restaurants from 19 to 18.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kyle South, who represents District 16 in the Alabama House of Representatives, and was championed by Gomez, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the Alabama Retail Association.

The bill passed both houses last month, and Ivey signed it into law Thursday. It will go into effect on July 1st of this year.

"This is such a huge deal, not only for myself and my business but for so many people around the state," Gomez told the Thread. "The workforce issues that the entire industry has been facing since COVID, it is just huge for us to be able to reach into a bigger pool of employees but to retain -- that's the main thing for us, to retain employees."

Gomez said his youngest employees at his restaurants are often hired as busboys or hostesses at the age of 15 or 16, but that they often leave when they turn 18 because they aren't allowed to serve alcohol and have opportunities to make money elsewhere when they graduate from high school.

"Now, they're able to stay in the restaurant and we're able to keep the working there and making more money," Gomez said. "This will create bigger and better opportunities for them, and of course I'm being benefitted because I'm able to retain young people, I don't have to train new people, they can just go straight into a better opportunity."

Gomez said he researched the issue and found Alabama was one of the only states in the region where the minimum age to serve alcohol was still 19. In Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and elsewhere, he said, the requirement had been lowered to 18.

"All we were asking for is just to get in line with these other states and we're just glad and thankful the Legislature and everybody else was able to see that and get on board with us," Gomez said. "I am just elated and I couldn't 't be more proud for us."

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