Disabled Man Sues Restaurant, Returns For Empanadas

Categories: Law & Order
Paula Tejeda doesn't take kindly to customers who sue her, then return for more food
The wheelchair-using man who is suing the landlord of 16th Street empanada destination Chile Lindo for disabled access violations returned this week -- to buy some meat pies. He ended up getting them served with a heavy side of sass from
"The Girl From Empanada," aka owner Paula Tejeda.

The confrontation ended up with litigious diner Craig Yates allegedly referring to the empanadas as "muffins," his attorney uttering "Take [Tejeda's] legs off and tell her to go crawl in there," and Tejeda enthusiastically calling it a "scene." We are not making this up.

SF Weekly was the bearer of some bad news to Tejeda earlier this week: The six-month-old takeout joint is one of many mom-and-pop eateries -- or their landlords -- in the Mission being targeted in the most recent spate of disability access lawsuits brought by notorious attorney Thomas Frankovich.

The subject of a cover story back in 2007, Frankovich is a San Francisco-based litigator with a penchant for cowboy boots and references to General Patton, who has made a legal practice of suing places that his wheelchair-using proxies find in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Frankovich's most frequent San Francisco flier, Yates, has had a recent two-wheeled field day in the Mission. In addition to the building that houses Chile Lindo, he's filed suit against Cafe Gratitude, Elsy's Pupuseria, Mikado Sushi, Pete's Bar-B-Q, and Balompie Cafe. Yates has also targeted the Richmond District's Pot De Pho Noodle House and Pho Clement Restaurant, West Portal's Cafe For All Seasons, and Nob Hill's Pizza Pino, among many, many others

A number of Mission eateries have felt the wrath of Tom Frankovich's clients of late

Tejeda says she got a letter from Yates earlier this year saying he couldn't enter her restaurant and suggesting she make changes to put her in compliance with the law, but she tore it up in disgust. Chile Lindo is a take-out restaurant, not a sit-down, she says, and they've always accomodated Yates: "He comes to the front door and we hand him an empanada," Tejeda says. "Where's a wheelchair going to fit in there? If you're too fat, you won't fit in there."

The lawsuits have other Mission eateries rushing to ensure they're compliant. Kosta Koutoulas, the manager of Pete's Bar-B-Q received a letter from Yates, complaining about the door that opens outwards at the top of the slope. He replaced the door now, though Frankovich has not dropped the suit.

"It's going to be like Patton on his way to Berlin," Frankovich says of restaurants who don't correct their wrongs before he files suit. "If you don't go ahead and get it taken care of, Big Bertha is going to level the guns and clear the decks." Yes, that was what he said. Verbatim.

Frankovich says he has no patience for the "mom-and-pop crap" as an excuse to not be complaint with ADA requirements that have been in effect since 1990. "Quit your crying and wimping and I'm a minority, because they are picking on the most deprived of minorities."

Frankovich says often, as in the case of Chile Lindo, he doesn't sue the restaurant if it appears they don't make much money. He instead goes after the building's landlords, although he says that in "95 percent" of cases, the landlords will then file suit on the restaurants, saying it's their problem to get compliant with the law.  

The State Bar charged Frankovich in 2008 with two disciplinary charges for allegations of extorting settlements, seeking to mislead a judge, and committing acts of moral turpitude. Yet the State Bar Court cleared Frankovich, only finding him guilty of an unrelated matter of improperly communicating with a represented party in a foreign jurisdiction. (Frankovich says it was a phone call that lasted 35 seconds.) He received a public reproval and was ordered to attend a session at the State Bar Ethics School.

But Tejeda says lawyers like Frankovich abuse the spirit of disability law. "It's really disgusting. When people are having such a hard time running their businesses nobody needs this added stress. It is clearly not a case where someone with a disability has been discriminated [against], but rather it's a way of milking a law that was put in place to benefit the handicapped community. These people have no compassion for the people they say they represent; rather they're just a mafia."

So now comes the real drama. While Tejeda was shocked to be named in a suit, the real surprise rolled up to her eatery this week: Yates had returned wanting to order two beef empanadas. Tejeda recounts the episode that ensued after she marched up to him: "I said, 'Excuse me, what's your name?' And he said, 'Craig,' and I said, 'You're suing me, and and I'm like you're not coming here to buy my empanadas.' He said 'I'm not suing you, I'm suing your landlord.' And I said, 'No, you're affecting my business. ... He looked at me with an expression that was so passive-aggressive like trying to play innocent, and I'm like, 'What you're doing is unethical.'"

Tejeda says her sister had already taken Yates' order and his $10.95 for the two meat pies. "So I handed him the empanadas and he said to my sister, 'She isn't going to sell me any more muffins?' He didn't call them empanadas. He called them muffins." Talk about rubbing salt on the wound. "It was a scene!"

Tejeda says it was a small dose of vindication. "I was so happy to get the chance to do it. Maybe if he realizes he won't get the chance to come here and get more empanadas, that may make him drop the suit."

Fat chance. Yates told Frankovich about the argument, and the attorney is now pulling out fighting words. "If Miss Chile Lindo doesn't get an attitude fix, she's going to have a bigger problems. It's like saying you're black, you're not going to eat at my restaurant because you're not welcome here. Take her legs off and tell her to go crawl in there."

All right, then. It look like this is just heating up.      

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