Yet there were two take-away lessons: One, the Mission restaurant owners being sued are hurting, big-time, because of the Americans with Disabilities Act suits brought by notorious attorney Tom Frankovich. Elsy's Pupuseria, the bare bones restaurant at 25th and Mission that sells pupusas at $2 a pop, has already shelled out $7,000 in attorney fees to fight the suit. (That's 3,500 pupusas, folks.) And, two: If you're going to rumble, you most certainly want Chile Lindo's Paula Tejeda on your side.
Tejeda, who started her empanada business at 16th and Capp at the beginning of this year, has gone into crusader mode since finding out her landlord is getting sued for not having a ramp into her takeout-only restaurant. As we've reported, she got in a squabble with the wheelchair-using plaintiff, Craig Yates, when he returned for beef empanadas after filing his suit. For the past several weeks, she's been serving empanadas out the door to everyone in order to not incur any more discrimination complaints.
In her prim skirt and Jackie O glasses at yesterday's rally, The Girl From Empanada loosed an incendiary speech, her voice cracking into a fit of tears: "The business owners need to know they are not alone, that people care about what's going on on, because its horrific -- horrific! -- that in the United States of America in 2010 this is taking place."
But we can't do justice to Tejeda's address of passion and fury in quotations. Watch it for yourself:
Cafe Gratitude investor Henri Norris was a bit more measured in her approach: "We're gathering the needed information so we can move forward with properly litigating. There are plaintiffs that are going around and making a living by not giving small businesses the opportunity to fix the problem. If that's the case, it seems unfair and is certainly going to drive a number of small businesses out of business."
Take Elsy's Pupuseria for instance, the restaurant which has already shelled out thousands in lawyer's fees to defend against the suit alleging its counter is a couple of inches too tall and there's no ramp into the establishment. Jaime Gonzales, Elsy's husband, said, "We have nothing against people with disabilities. We just hope they understand that we're working and we hope you'll support us to get ahead."
Regina Dick-Endrizzi, executive director of the San Francisco Office of Small Business, says the commission passed a resolution against such ADA lawsuits a couple years ago when Frankovich sued several North Beach establishments. "The small business commission has weighed in that it's a predatory practice, that this is not an honorable way to achieve access and most disability organizations don't support this method of achieving disability access."
Tejeda's crusade against the lawsuits is now reaching high places, taking her case to the Mission District's Supervisor David Campos today. "I was in the neighborhood and I ran into her and she explained to me what's going on," Campos said. "I think it's important for the city to be supportive of not only making places accessible but to do so in a way that ensures the viability of these businesses, and I don't think the two are mutually exclusive."