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March 11, 2015

Feds probing 25 of Philly's most popular restaurants

Review will determine if businesses are barring the disabled.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is looking into 25 of Philadelphia's most popular and trendy restaurants to determine if they are complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to be accessible to the handicapped.

Among the restaurants under scrutiny: El Vez, Amada, Morimoto, Parc, Tinto, Butcher and Singer, Osteria, Amis, Village Whiskey and the South Philadelphia Tap Room. 

The restaurants range from mom and pop establishments to some owned by food powerhouses Stephen Starr and Jose Garces. 

Federal officials say they are not responding to any specific complaints against the restaurants, which were selected after "a formula was developed involving restaurant rankings to determine the 25 that would be subject to review," said Patty Hartman, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia. Media and online customer reviews were part of the formulation, Hartman said. 

"We are not targeting Stephen Starr," or any one restaurant group, Hartman said.

As part of the review, restaurant owners are being asked to complete a survey on the business' accessibility to the disabled. 

After the surveys are returned, investigators, on a case-by-case basis, will conduct on-site inspections. Those in violation will have a chance to upgrade their facilities to meet ADA requirements. Those who don't may face a government lawsuit, penalties and fines. 

“People with disabilities who visit, work or live in Philadelphia have the right to expect that all public accommodations in the city are accessible according to law,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger. “The Americans with Disabilities Act is an important civil rights law, and restaurant owners must comply with its accessibility provisions. We will take all reasonable steps within our power to ensure that any restaurants that fall short of compliance make the necessary changes, rather than face litigation.”

Regulations on what restaurants have to do to be in compliance cover everything from awnings, which may be too low and a danger to the blind, to the width of doors, which can impede people who use wheelchairs. 

Calls and emails to representatives for Starr and Garces were not immediately returned.