Ten Greenville restaurants are getting reviewed — but not in the way they are accustomed.
Instead of being rated by the quality of their entrees, appetizers, and desserts and the attentiveness and knowledge of their wait staff, these 10 eateries, all located within a 5-mile radius of downtown, are being reviewed for their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Recently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia sent letters to 10 restaurants it found on a third-party website that identified the city’s most popular restaurants.
Rob Sneed, an assistant U.S. Attorney who is one of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights coordinators for the District of South Carolina, would not disclose which restaurants received letters because the investigation is open. The office also declined to specify which site they consulted.
However, after consulting several different lists and making calls, The Greenville Journal received verbal confirmation from management at Sully’s Steamers and The Trappe Door, both on Washington Street downtown, that they are among the 10 restaurants that received the letters.
Josh Beeby owns the Belgium-inspired Trappe Door, which features a rather long set of stairs from its front Washington Street entrance to the basement-level restaurant below. Needless to say, their stairs would not be suited to wheelchair access.
Despite appearances, the Trappe Door was built to ADA code when it was created in 2011, according to Beeby. Many older restaurants downtown are grandfathered.
Upon receiving the letter and survey, Beeby filled it out immediately and sent it back. “I don’t foresee any issues,” he says. “It was very clear no one had complained.”
When planning the Trappe Door’s design, Beeby says instead of incurring the expense of installing an elevator from the street-level front entrance to the ground floor, the restaurant turned its attention elsewhere — the backdoor in the rear alleyway behind the Trappe Door and Barley’s. From the alley to the backdoor, they constructed a ramp, making it fully accessible to wheelchairs and those who cannot descend the entryway stairs.
The ADA requires the U.S. Department of Justice to do periodic reviews to see if restaurants are compliant, and to bring civil enforcement actions to obtain compliance and issue penalties as appropriate.
Similar restaurant ADA compliance reviews have been conducted in other cities, including Houston and Philadelphia, but this is the first in South Carolina, Sneed said.
Greenville was picked because it is one of the state’s three biggest cities, and there hasn’t been as much ADA enforcement activity here as in Columbia and Charleston.
Greenville’s growth and emergence as a tourist destination was considered as well. “I’m sure that was a factor,” he said.
Restaurant owners who received the letter were asked to complete a survey regarding the restaurant’s accessibility, such as entryway width and restroom design, as well as their building’s age and any building modifications.
An investigator also schedules a visit to evaluate ADA compliance. Those visits likely will begin in September, Sneed said. If violations are found, the DOJ pursues voluntary compliance measures first, but civil lawsuits may be pursued in federal court if necessary, Sneed said.
“Imagine, if you will, what life would be like if you could not get into a grocery store or a school or a government office, or in this case, eat in a restaurant,” said U.S. Attorney Beth Drake.