Toby Keith’s “I Love This Tax Problem”

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In 2003, country music superstar Toby Keith released “I Love This Bar,” the first single from his Shock’n Y’All album. (For those of you under age 25 or so, an “album” is . . . oh, never mind.) Billboard predicted the song would become “a beer-joint staple for years to come,” and it promptly shot to #1 on the charts, selling over a million copies.

“I Love This Bar” is just one of Keith’s odes to drinking — he’s also scored hits with “Whiskey Girl,” “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” and “Get My Drink On.” “Red Solo Cup,” his 2011 smash, made the red plastic cups the symbol of “party time” for the under-30 set. Naturally, with that sort of appeal, Keith had to open a bar of his own. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet pioneered the concept, opening dozens of tourist traps Margaritavilles anywhere middle-aged men of a certain disposition gather to recall their youth. If Jimmy can do it, why can’t Toby?

And so it came to pass that there are now fifteen Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill locations from sea to shining sea. Keith’s namesake joints feature guitar-shaped bars, beer served in mason jars (just like in the song), and elegant southern fare like chicken-fried chicken (?), fried bologna sandwiches (!), and deep-fried twinkies (!!). You’ll find them plunked down in cities across our fair land, including such traditional country-music strongholds as Boston, Detroit, Cincinnati, and even Syracuse

It’s that last location in upstate New York — 1,400 miles from Keith’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma — that brings us to our story. You’d think the guy who sang “Beer for My Horses” with Willie Nelson would have no problem turning a profit with sales from a bar packed with thirsty fans. But apparently, you’d be wrong. The New York Department of Taxation and Finance has just hit the store with a “tax warrant” for $189,392.17 in unpaid sales taxes. The warrant lets the state levy the business’ bank account or even seize the business entirely. (The restaurant remains open for now, as officials seem to think they have a better job collecting if they don’t kill their golden goose. Phew!)

Bars and restaurants are notoriously risky businesses, even with “can’t miss” concepts like “I Love This Bar.” (If you think rising meat and cheese prices are hitting your wallet hard, just imagine what happens when you’re feeding thousands of fans a month!) Restaurant owners who find themselves in trouble can be tempted to “borrow” from the government by hanging on to taxes they collect on behalf of customers and employees. The problem, unfortunately, is that every day they continue, they fall deeper and deeper into the hole — and sometimes they never dig back out.

Keith’s restaurant may be struggling. But the singer himself isn’t having any money problems. Forbes magazine has called him “Country’s $500 Million Man,” and “a one-man cash machine.” He owns a liquor company, a record label, and a golf course. There’s even an eight-passenger Learjet, painted in Oklahoma Sooner crimson and cream, outfitted with saddle-leather seats. But one thing Keith doesn’t own is “his” restaurant in New York. While he does own chunks of the first few locations, he generally just licenses the newer locations to outside operators in exchange for a piece of the gross.

We realize few of you could imagine making millions selling fried bologna sandwiches. But we can imagine how unhappy you’d be if word leaked out that you owed enough tax to pay for an entire house! That’s why we, Chicago CPA work so hard to help you plan to pay less. So call us on 773-728-1500 if you’d rather spend your money treating your friends to a round of drinks. And remember, we’re here for them, too!