The Dew Drop Inn, which calls itself Mobile’s oldest restaurant and has been serving traditional diner fare in its landmark location on Old Shell Road for at least 50 years, was recently notified by a Montgomery law firm alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Lagniappe recently obtained a letter addressed to the “legal department” of Mobile staple The Dew Drop Inn from the ADA Group, out of Montgomery. In the letter written on behalf of a client, attorney L. Landis Sexton informs owner Powell Hamlin of the ADA violations in the form of “architectural barriers” that “impair my client’s ability to enjoy the full and equal services that your company provides.”
The letter does not lay out in what areas the restaurant, which in its current location on Old Shell Road was built in the 1930s, isn’t compliant with the 1990 law, but it does mention a deadline of 14 days for the restaurant to respond, or “we will be forced to file a lawsuit in federal court.” Hamlin said he has responded and is researching what needs to be done to get the building into compliance.
Sexton had no comment when reached by phone Monday, citing a policy against public statements in ongoing cases.
Hamlin said he doesn’t mind accommodating ADA modifications, but suggested renovations would have an impact on his business. For starters, he said he could lose up to four tables and 10 or more seats in the 74-seat restaurant in order to come into compliance with the law.
“I could lose two booths, one four-top and two two-tops,” he said.
The loss of seating would impact his wait staff’s earnings, he said, and could cost his business hundreds of dollars a day. In addition, renovations to the bathrooms and the front door of the establishment could cost around $35,000, Hamlin said, based on rough estimates. If a ramp is needed on the side door, or if the parking lot needs to be updated, the cost would go up, he said.
“Little things start to add up,” he said.
Hamlin said he has every intention of getting the building into compliance, within reason.
“I would like to see how far I have to go to comply,” he said. “If I can’t afford something, what do I do?”
Hamlin said he knows of other restaurants dealing with similar complaints. ADA violations are not new in Mobile. The Battle House Hotel entered into a consent decree with U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown over ADA violations last year. Brown’s office found more than 300 violations of Title III of the ADA during an investigation spawned by a visitor’s complaint.
At the time, those violations included: a main entrance with no curb ramps or demarcated passenger loading zones; an interior ramp partially obstructed by a structural column; other ramps that were too steep or did not allow proper turning room; no wheelchair access from St. Francis Street; no access to the main swimming pool, hot tub and spa; no access to the hotel’s “best rooms” and limited access to all bathrooms; and deficient signage for entrances and routes.
In July, Battle House General Manager Margot Gilbert said the hotel had met the Justice Department’s first phase of requirements, and the second is to be completed in October.
“Maybe the most noticeable thing, at the front drive, in the valet area, the ramps were grinded down,” Gilbert said at the time. “There is a ramp on third floor that connects the [RSA] tower to the historical hotel and that was ground down. There were modifications made to lifts in the spa/pool area and men’s and women’s dressing rooms. We completed some work in guest rooms to make the irons and ironing boards more accessible and the ability to open the curtains.”
Gilbert said the hotel was still renovating guest bathrooms and communications and security systems to make them compliant for the hearing impaired.
“It’s a good thing,” she said. “The DOJ has been pleased with our accomplishments.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson also said ADA violations were one reason why the city is phasing out the Mobile Civic Center by April 2016. Stimpson’s administration has said it would cost about $20 million to make the venue ADA compliant.