News

Feature story: Burgers and brews among friends at the Dutch Goose

 

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."

Comments

103 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2015 at 9:53 am

I'm very sad that this painful issue is being revived (and truly hope my comments, or parts of them, will not be erased).

--- I'm so glad that I am able to go to the Dutch Goose again, after quite unexpectedly becoming disabled 10 years ago. I'm even happier that our disabled Vets can now access the building and have fun at the Goose.

--- The Dutch Goose is not a victim here. They avoided compliance with the ADA requirements, which had been in place for over 20 years before the Goose finally was forced to comply.

Only part of the $2+ million remodeling covered the access issues....there was a total re-design of the restaurant (it needed it). Now the Dutch Goose is much more attractive, and much more functional for everyone (not just disabled folks). It also seems busier than ever.

Can we move on? It would be good for the entire community and good for the Goose.


3 people like this
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 21, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Looking forward to visiting the new Goose for a round of their amazing deviled eggs, which I hope are still on the menu. And watching SC Trojans football.


8 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Too bad Sr. Hernandez didn't realize he could park in the rear lot & use the ramp which was already in place from the sidewalk to the back door for access. I'm not very sympathetic to litigious folks who ignore the accommodations already in place. There are quite a few MP restaurants that aren't ADA compliant so I hope Sr. Hernandez didn't select only The Goose for his attentions.


44 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Ms./Mr. Downtowner:
The parking spaces in the rear lot were standard parking spaces. Handicapped parking spaces include extra space for people to safely exit/enter their vehicles. This is essential for wheelchair users and cane users.

Disabled spaces must also be level to be safe, which the Goose's former disabled spots were definitely not. There were other code violations as well....e.g. the bathrooms, which are pretty important in a restaurant.

Speaking of restaurants with access issues -- I immediately think of a 1960s breakfast place on Santa Cruz, where the booths and aisles are far too narrow for access, and the only bathrooms are upstairs. Disabled people can't go to this restaurant.

So I agree with you that there are several other non-compliant restaurants Menlo Park that should make the access modifications which have been required by law for so long.


9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

[Post removed. Please don't use Town Square to accuse people of criminal conduct. The litigant may have filed multiple suits, but unless he was convicted of extortion, don't make the accusations on Town Square.]


30 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2015 at 3:01 pm

@Menlo Voter: Just hope that you never end up disabled. Trust me, you might not find the experience all that pleasurable...then again, you might find out why "disabled fan" feels the way he does about the remodel effort by Dutch Goose.


8 people like this
Posted by Linda L.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Mr. Hernandez had the guts to take on so many businesses to change things for the better, I love the new Goose! I used to go there many years ago when I was in high school, and had to stop due to a disability. If one has to use a wheelchair having an ADA bathroom is critical. So many people don't understand this, having not been in this situation. Think of all our vets who can now enjoy the facilities! I'd like to be able to go back to many more of the Menlo Park spots I love, which have yet to update their facilities.


30 people like this
Posted by Planar
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Aug 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm

If a restaurant is going to use the public commons (which, of course they do!) they should be accessible.

They've had dozens of years to figure a way to do it.

if they suddenly are surprised at the cost after 20 years of profitability, perhaps they should change their model.

Can't serve? Then deliver. Cater. Whatever.

20+ years? C'mon.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

[Post removed. Please don't use Town Square to accuse people of criminal conduct. The litigant may have filed multiple suits, but unless he was convicted of extortion, don't make the accusations on Town Square.]


Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Menlo Voter -- "My problem is with people like Mr Hernandez who really aren't interested in accessibility. They're shake down artists. If they were truly interested in accessibility they wouldn't take "settlement" money to go away. They're extortionists and they've found a legal way to extort money from businesses."

So YOU say.

And we should take that opinion seriously because...?


8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2015 at 6:51 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

stop:

do a little research. This guy is a well known ADA litigant. So's his attorney.


44 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

If businesses are failing in this area, it is not because of ADA. It is due to the real estate madness in the area. Prices and commercial rents are beyond irrational. No one puts a dime into their properties, merchants suffer from obscene rents. Yet non-compliant properties still exist and health and safety and zoning regulations still exist.

If not for Mr. Hernandez, the Dutch Goose would still be inaccessible today and would be even more than the 20+ years out of compliance it was when the suit began.

Mr. Hernandez' settlement was not outlandish -- I believe he was awarded about 15k. Regardless of the exact amount, if he had an attorney, the lawyer took 40% and both paid taxes on the settlement.

I see the settlement as an appropriate fee for Hernandez' willingness to see this through, and believe it is a fair award for the horrible attacks he endured along the way. I am disabled, but don't think I could have endured the hate. Hernandez' lawsuit helped many many people gain access... and it should put other local scofflaws on notice.

But not having to sue in the first place would have been the best option. Everyone involved would have saved a lot of money and a lot of emotion.

My last post on this topic will begin with the point of the first post:
The Goose is so much more attractive and functional for everyone with this remodel and it seems busier than ever. It's a Win-Win that could have been a lot simpler and cheaper if the property owners had con it without the drama.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

disabled fan:

the point is that many establishments simply can't afford to bring buildings built LONG before the ADA and people like Hernandez are out there suing them knowing full well they can't afford the money to bring their establishment up to ADA requirements. Yet, Hernandez and his attorney will SETTLE FOR A MONETARY FEE THAT DOES NOT REQUIRE THE ESTABLISHMENT TO BRING ITS BUILDING UP TO ADA CODE. Is it clear now that they are not really interested in getting buildings up to code? If they were they wouldn't settle in the cases where buildings weren't going to brought up to code. As I said, legal extortion. The Dutch Goose situation may be different, but it is an exception.


24 people like this
Posted by goose fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 22, 2015 at 6:28 am

shouldn't some of the blame be on the landlord ? Why is it the Goose id getting most of the blame ? The DG is paying rent, hoping whomever owns the building will bring it up to code.


6 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 22, 2015 at 7:46 am

pogo is a registered user.

Like any regulation, the ADA has been subject to abuse. There are people who simply troll restaurants - often by google earth maps - and threaten the owners with lawsuits if they don't send them money. It's a mafia-style shakedown, pure and simple.

There are individuals (usually lawyers) who threaten hundreds of small businesses every year. As Menlo Voter said, they have NO interest in correcting the problem. If the business owner sends them money, usually $5,000 or so, they will drop the threat. Tony Soprano would be proud.

A well intentioned law has become a joke and simply a new litigation ploy for attorneys.


37 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2015 at 9:18 am

Pogo & Menlo Voter & Dutch Goose landlord -- I had to respond, even though I wanted out of this acrimonious topic.

--- If a lawsuit had been filed by a disabled Veteran, you would have said that the Dutch Goose should stop avoiding the disability law and become accessible right away? Would a vet be entitled to the settlement, or would you also attack this person? I'm wondering what the Vet I saw yesterday with 2 artificial legs would say.

--- The excuses against the DG's refusal to follow the law were and are ridiculous. And the excuses are especially ugly in one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S.

Anyone can become disabled at any time -- even you or someone in your family -- and disabled people are entitled to have access to restaurants and bars, theaters, stadiums, schools, transportation, etc. without having to sue.

We don't exclude or shut away disabled people in this country. America is better than that.


7 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 22, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

[Post removed. Please don't use Town Square to accuse people of criminal conduct. The litigant may have filed multiple suits, but unless he was convicted of extortion, don't make the accusations on Town Square.]


34 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm

I do understand. And I understand your motivations as well.

Hernandez is disabled, as am I. We both "ACTUALLY CARE" about access.

I'm glad he's taking on the scofflaws who have been avoiding the law for decades. And I think he's entitled to some compensation for both his expenses for suing the lawbreakers and for the hateful attacks that he endures.


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

disabled fan:

if he truly "cared" why would he take compensation from business owners in lieu of ACTUALLY fixing the access issue. Sorry, this guy is an extortionist nothing more. His disabled status doesn't change that.


23 people like this
Posted by disabled fan of DG
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Unfortunately, in our system it costs money to get enforceable legal redress when property owners stubbornly refuse to follow both Federal law and the local building & safety code. Not doing so for 20 years is pretty egregious.

I have no problem that a well-known litigant sued a well-known scofflaw.

Personally, I hope Hernandez or someone else has the guts to take on other inaccessible properties in Menlo Park. For now, I won't patronize them and neither will my friends/family. BUT I WILL PATRONIZE THE GOOSE now that it's remodeled.


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 22, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

disabled fan:

clearly you don't get it. Hernandez isn't doing this to make businesses correct their ADA noncompliance. This is his income. [part removed.] You obviously don't care as long as he's doing what you think is great. If he was "goring your ox" I'd doubt you'd feel the same way.

Enjoy the Dutch Goose.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Camper opens for lunch in Menlo Park
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 3,977 views

Couples: Child Loss, "No U-Turn at Mercy Street"
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,025 views

Which Cocktail Has the Least Calories?
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 694 views