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1st ADA lawsuit fatality: Barnwood

Popular Ripon restaurant closing down Sunday, 12 losing their jobs

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1st ADA lawsuit fatality: Barnwood

An ADA lawsuit is prompting the Barnwood Restaurant in Ripon to close its doors Sunday.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED June 12, 2014 1:20 a.m.

Ripon’s Barnwood Restaurant is closing its doors Sunday as its owners are unable to meet the monetary demands of a suit claiming it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The suit brought by Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson is just one of more than three dozen that have been levied against small businesses in the Manteca and Ripon communities. While Manteca reportedly has 36 business that have been served with the federal action, Ripon has only two to date, The Main Street Inn and The Barnwood.

Owners of the Ripon establishment Don Lee and Ken Hildebrand sat stone faced in their office Wednesday afternoon announcing their decision. 

 “It’s like the attorneys are creating work for each other, because the day we were served several other attorneys contacted us offering their services as defense attorneys,” they noted.

“The ADA lawsuit is just the final nail in the coffin,” Lee said. “We needed two years to get the business up and running after buying it last year. We are going just into catering where there are a lot of opportunities.

Both men agreed it was a sad day and noted they have been looking for other jobs for their staff of 12 that they noted has been exceptionally loyal to them. 

“They are not just our employees,” Hall said. “They have become our friends.”

The partners said the first inkling of legal activity was when they saw a woman in their parking lot taking pictures of their building and the ramp leading to their porch. Among other things they didn’t like the signage on the building and the signage to the ramp.

A woman that claimed to have been in a wheelchair when trying to enter the restaurant, commented in the court action that she was “very embarrassed” at the door. None of the staffers or the owners ever remembers that woman or anyone else being at their restaurant who wasn’t offered assistance.

The legal demand asks that two new bathrooms be added along with two doors, restructuring of the front porch entrance, resurfacing and restriping of the parking lot and possibly the addition of an elevator to the second floor.

‘It’s a tough economy and a tough state to run a business,” Lee said. He said when they bought the business it had old equipment and old windows but they brought it up to City of Ripon code standards.

“The prices on our menu haven’t changed but the cost of food and supplies has gone up 30 percent,” he added. Hildebrand interjected. “What we do really well is catering and we can still be out and serve the community.”

The men noted that the complainant in the action, Cynthia Hopson, claims to be a special education teacher who is suffering from systemic lupus, erythmatosis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. 

They said they will miss their monthly wine dinners were they served 50 to 60 guest at a time bringing in a local wine maker at the five course dinners. They have a contact list of 460 enthusiastic patrons for those dinners. 

“We’ve had people propose in here and a couple that had dinner with special meals before going to the hospital to deliver their baby,” he recalled. “We’ve catered weddings, corporate events, in-flight catering, hospital event, birthday parties, a First Communion, eighth grade, high school and college graduations as well as a celebration for a Masters in Theology degree.

“It ends up that you are going to only have large chains for restaurants – a lot of history is going to be lost – the chains are going to replace the mom and pop eateries,” he stressed. “We probably have people on our side but we don’t have the money to run it out. Where are you going to get the real food that isn’t processed?”.

Hildebrand added, “It’s been an exciting year – a tough year, but really a good year.”

He recalled when the restaurant hosted the “Tip-A-Cop” event for a fundraising supporting the police memorial and the cops’ Code-3 Burger. As for putting their staff of 12 first, neither of the two have yet to take a dime out of the business in the form of a paycheck working 75 to 90 hours a week.

They will continue to have the website as well as the Food Guy where they may be contacted for their catering services. Their phone number is 209.204.2562.

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