By Gideon Rubin | Special to the Almanac
Scott Davis pored over a newspaper while nursing a golden ale as a bright afternoon sun peeked into the patio of one of the Midpeninsula's most iconic watering holes. The 49-year-old insurance broker, a Menlo Park resident, has been a Dutch Goose regular for some 30 years.
He's among a multitude of local residents cheering its reopening after an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit shuttered the beer and burger joint earlier this year for about a month.
"It's a landmark," Mr. Davis says. "It's a good place for locals to come and families to bring their kids and relax and have a cold beer."
Families have frequented the Dutch Goose since Lyndon Johnson was president. The popular eatery, on Alameda de las Pulgas in West Menlo Park, opened its doors in 1966. It was named after the Kansas City bar where original owner Pete Eccles knocked down his first beer. The bartender was named Dutch.
The juicy burgers, ample beer selection and unpretentious vibe have drawn customers from diverse ethnicities and economic backgrounds. The Dutch Goose was among a handful of Menlo Park establishments that became popular Stanford hangouts during the 1960s, when bars were banned within a 3-mile radius of the university.
The Oasis in Menlo Park and the Alpine Inn Beer Garden (called Rossatti's at the time) in Portola Valley were among the others.
"Those were the places people frequented back then because it was the first place you could get a beer," Dutch Goose owner Greg Stern says. "Over time, that's changed, unfortunately."
The most recent changes at the Dutch Goose followed a 2013 lawsuit filed by Gerardo Hernandez, a paraplegic who alleged multiple ADA violations at the restaurant. Mr. Hernandez has filed at least a half-dozen similar lawsuits over the past three years, according to court records.
"The biggest misconception is that we weren't for the ADA," Mr. Stern says. "Gosh, the more customers we can get in here the better, but the lawsuit forced us to do it overnight and that's just tough. "You just have to shut down."
Mr. Stern shut down the Dutch Goose in late April for about a month at the cost of "north of $2 million," he says. He reopened the restaurant after completing renovations that made the it ADA-compliant.
The renovations included adding accessible bathrooms, a wheelchair elevator, lowering a section of the outdoor bar counter to 3 feet tall to accommodate wheelchairs, and moving the parking lot from the front to the rear. The plaintiff had alleged that it was unsafe to back out onto Alameda de las Pulgas.
Mr. Stern also had to add a second story to replace office space, dry storage and refrigeration that he'd previously stored on a patch of the ground floor that is now an accessible carport.
The new accessible bathrooms stretched into valuable indoor space, which meant something had to give. So Mr. Stern ditched an indoor bar counter to keep a pool table that he believes is integral to the Dutch Goose's character.
By the time the renovations were complete, the Dutch Goose had 34 fewer seats. But it gained a pizza oven in the bargain.
"It took a lot of creativity to make this ADA-compliant," Mr. Stern notes.
Landlord John Beltramo's commitment to keep the business afloat was pivotal too. "We would've had to shut the doors ... if it wasn't for him," Mr. Stern says. "Financially, we wouldn't have been able to pull it off ourselves."
Mr. Stern, a graduate of Menlo-Atherton High School, got into the restaurant business at the Dutch Goose at a time when it appeared another door was closing. It was during the post-dot-com crash in 2001 that Mr. Stern, unhappy with his work as a Merrill Lynch broker at the time, made an unsolicited offer for the Dutch Goose at the prodding of his father over a beer and a burger while patronizing the restaurant.
The owner wasn't quite ready to sell at the time, but persistence paid off for Mr. Stern, who studied entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California. He took ownership in 2005.
"Sometimes you need a little luck to go your way," he says.
Sometimes, dumb luck works too at the Dutch Goose.
That's according to regulars Tim Van Driel, 31, and Kasper Kjaer, 30, postdoctoral researchers from Technical University of Denmark who work at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. They cite a confrontation with parents who called them out for yelling profanities around their small children an incident that turned into an extra round.
"Afterwards, they felt bad that they told us off, so they bought us beers," Mr. Van Driel explains.
Such incidents are perhaps inevitable at an establishment that caters to a diverse clientele, a rare place where lawyers and stock brokers talk baseball and politics with plumbers and electricians.
That is perhaps the mystique of the Dutch Goose.
"You meet all kinds of people here," Mr. Davis, the insurance broker, says. "You don't know who you're going to be sitting next to, if a guy has 50 cents in his pocket or if a guy has a million dollars.
"That's the charm of this place. Families tend to come and everybody knows each other. You can leave all your troubles out the door and come in and have a beer and some food."