BREWER, Maine — Mike Noyes just wanted to get into Pepino’s Taco Stand and order a burrito and a beer, but the restaurant’s two front steps made access impossible for him, so he asked the owner to add a wheelchair ramp.
It’s three years later and Noyes can finally roll into the Mexican restaurant on South Main Street, just like everyone else.
“They finished it on Friday and I used it Saturday,” Noyes, 57, said Thursday. “I took my girlfriend down there and we had supper. It only took 34 months.”
The Bangor man filed a complaint against Norris Bryant, the building’s owner, in 2008 with the Maine Human Rights Commission, saying that the building did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bryant said Thursday during a telephone interview from Arizona that sometimes it takes time to get even small things accomplished when dealing with city officials, local rules and federal laws.
“A request was made and I agreed it was a good thing and we did it,” he said. “There is nothing to say there is any violation. Most business owners are more than willing to remove barriers.”
Noyes complained to the City Council about the lack of accessibility at the restaurant in May 2008 and a month later filed the human rights complaint. Noyes told city councilors that when Bryant made renovations in 2006 to add a large deck on the side of the approximately 600-square-foot restaurant, the ADA law required him to invest 20 percent of the project costs to improve access with the noncompliant building.
Noyes said if the restaurant owner had enough money to expand seating, he had enough money to add a handicapped-accessible ramp.
“Yes, I had to force them to come to their senses,” he said Thursday. “They thought they were grandfathered. Any business that is public is supposed to furnish access to the public.”
There are numerous places that people in wheelchairs don’t have access to, a frustrating factor to those who cannot enter, Noyes said.
“I like my independence,” he said. “I’m not different than anyone else, but I can’t walk.”
A trio of Bangor businessmen bought the restaurant chain from Bryant last year, but he still owns the building. Bryant applied to the city’s board of appeals for a variance this past Feb. 28 and received permission to add a wheelchair ramp and a handicapped-accessible parking spot in front of the restaurant, Rodney Butler, Brewer’s code enforcement officer, said Wednesday.
“It looks nice,” he said.
Butler said officials from the Maine Human Rights Commission called him to see if Bryant had made the two changes, which he verified. A representative of the Human Rights Commission said Wednesday that the status of the legal claim would only be available once it is resolved.
Noyes said he has been told the complaint will be dropped since Bryant made the access changes.
Bangor businessmen Dan Tremble, Jonathan “Gabby” Price and his son-in-law Michael “Andy” Stephenson bought the local restaurant chain from Bryant last year and since have added another Pepino’s location on Hammond Street in Bangor.
Pepino’s employees at the Brewer location have provided Noyes curbside service on occasion over the years, but he said it just was not the same.
Noyes has used a wheelchair to get around ever since he was paralyzed from the waist down after a 20-foot fall at his home 11 years ago. Before the accident, Pepino’s Taco Stand was a regular stop for him, but until recently he could not get in the front door.
Noyes said that if others are able to enjoy a beer with their Mexican meal, he should have the chance, too. On Saturday, while dining with his girlfriend, Beverly Gray of Bangor, he ordered an El Pepino, a burrito covered with chili and melted cheese, a cheese crisp and a Budweiser.
“The food is excellent,” he said. “I don’t make a lot of money, but I’ve always got enough for a burrito.”