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The specialties at Falafel's Drive-In on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose include falafel sandwiches, gyros, salads, pita chips and a banana shake. Nowhere on the menu does the iconic San Jose restaurant offer humble pie.The 50-year-old eatery is one...

San Jose Falafel's Drive-In faces threat from serial ADA plaintiff

The specialties at Falafel's Drive-In on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose include falafel sandwiches, gyros, salads, pita chips and a banana shake. Nowhere on the menu does the iconic San Jose restaurant offer humble pie.The 50-year-old eatery is one...

San Jose Falafel's Drive-In faces threat from serial ADA plaintiff

The specialties at Falafel's Drive-In on Stevens Creek Boulevard in San Jose include falafel sandwiches, gyros, salads, pita chips and a banana shake. Nowhere on the menu does the iconic San Jose restaurant offer humble pie.

The 50-year-old eatery is one of the latest victims of serial plaintiff Scott Johnson, who has sued the restaurant over Americans with Disabilities Act violations like countertops that are too high, bathrooms that are tough to navigate, and handicapped parking in the wrong place.

A lot of businesses sued by Johnson wind up paying him attorneys' fees of $5,000 or more. It makes for a handsome income stream for the disabled Carmichael lawyer. But the family that owns Falafel's does not want to settle. They're thinking seriously about fighting.

"I don't want to pay him a penny," says Joanne Boyle, the daughter of the founder of Falafel's, who says that the modifications could ruin the charm of the place. "I don't want to destroy the building. We want to keep it the same.''

The compact eatery looks remarkably the same now as it did in 1966, when Anton and Zahie Nijmeh, Joanne's parents, took over a former Snow-White Drive-In and converted it to a place that made its mark by selling healthy Middle Eastern specialties. (Anton died in 2006.)

My colleague Sal Pizarro has declared its large falafel pita sandwich plus a banana shake ($9.50) "an unbeatable combination." The line that begins forming outside the low-slung place around 11:30 a.m. shows that a lot of people agree with him.

Adversary

For understandable reasons, Boyle and her sister and three brothers don't want to tinker with that success. They may have a tough legal battle ahead: Older places like Falafel's Drive-In were not built with the Americans with Disabilities Act in mind.

And Johnson has proved a resilient adversary, papering mom-and-pop businesses throughout California with lawsuits that pinpoint the shortcomings of older buildings.

The Carmichael attorney has faced legal action himself. Three months ago, it was reported that IRS and federal prosecutors had launched a criminal investigation to determine whether he paid taxes on his alleged millions in settlements.

This hasn't slowed him down as he has moved his operations to the Bay Area. (Johnson did not return my phone call.)

The owners of Falafel's have looked at whether their eatery could receive protection as a historical asset, which would allow such things as a single unisex bathroom. Alas, the place is not on a list of the city's historical landmarks or in its larger historical inventory.

So the family could end up doing work, though they say they almost never have had problems with disabled customers. I'm just not convinced that they should have to pay Johnson for the privilege.

Johnson has filed thousands of these lawsuits, and most are settled because owners want to avoid making waves. Few places, however, are as famous or beloved as Falafel's Drive-In. Few enjoy the good will.

San Jose Vice Mayor Rose Herrera says she is working to get legal help for the owners of Falafel's. But in the meantime, here's a suggestion: It's time for crowdsourcing. If you think you know what the family should do, send me an email at the address below and I'll see that they get it. Or stop by 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd. Joanne Boyle is there virtually every day.

This has been too great a place for too long a time to throw up its hands at a threat. As TJ Boyle, Joanne's husband, says of Johnson: "If he had a falafel, he wouldn't do this.''

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/scottherhold.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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