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North End restaurant owners add a new claim to outdoor dining lawsuit: anti-Italian discrimination

Five business owners are each seeking $1.5 million in damages from the city after it tightened rules for al fresco seating in the Italian enclave

People gathered at café tables placed in the closed parking lane on Hanover Street in the North End of Boston.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

When North End restaurateurs sued Mayor Michelle Wu last year, they took issue with outdoor dining rules that required businesses in the Italian enclave — but no other neighborhood in Boston — to pay a $7,500 fee to set up tables outside.

Now an amended version of the lawsuit makes a new claim: She’s biased against white men and Italian Americans.

Five business owners cited Wu’s comments at the 2022 St. Patrick’s Day breakfast as evidence she is treating North End restaurants unfairly.

At the function, the suit reads, “she made a speech and specifically stated ‘I’m getting used to dealing with problems that are expensive, disruptive, and WHITE.’”


(The breakfast is an annual tradition where top Massachusetts politicians gather to make jokes and political jabs over eggs and bacon.)

The restauranteurs also pointed to Boston’s All Inclusive ad campaign, a pandemic-era tourism effort aimed at highlighting local diversity and businesses of color. Its launch included a video in which a cast of Bostonians show off their version of the stereotypical Boston accent.

In the suit, restauranteurs claim “the video displays various city features, displays many people in various settings, though none being white male, outside of three (3) Red Sox players, or Italian American.”

The restauranteurs — owners of Vinoteca di Monica, Monica’s Trattoria, Antico Forno, Terramia Ristorante, and Rabia’s Dolce Fumo — also say the city left the North End off the initiative’s website. But as of publication, the site does include a page for the neighborhood.

They are each seeking $1.5 million in damages.

The city declined to comment on the lawsuit. But after a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Wu reiterated her support for the outdoor dining rules as they are and pointed to a committee of North End residents and business owners who are piecing together the guidelines for the future.


“We stand fully behind decisions that are to ensure residents can live in their neighborhoods with the full range of ease of access and safety and opportunity,” Wu said.

She also endorsed the distribution of pandemic funds to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The allegations add fuel to a long-running fight over the future of outdoor dining in the traditionally Italian neighborhood, home to nearly 100 restaurants.

Dozens of businesses there took advantage of a pandemic-era program that allowed them to seat diners on narrow sidewalks and parking spaces in the summers and falls of 2020 and 2021. Then controversy sparked last spring, when Wu announced that the outdoor dining season would be truncated to five months and that the privilege would come with a fee.

The city cited complaints from neighbors about increased trash and traffic as the impetus for the change.

Tension escalated again in February when the Wu administration altered the guidelines across the city. Restaurants in most of Boston will be allowed to set up tables on adjacent sidewalks and in parking spaces after submitting engineering plans and paying a fee between $199 or $399 each month, depending on whether or not they have a liquor license. But North End eateries will be limited to sidewalks and only those of “adequate” width.

The required width will be between 5 and 8 feet, but it is unclear how many sidewalks are big enough to fit that mandate.


Even that announcement sparked anger from Italian business owners.

“It’s upsetting for us to be discriminated against,” said Frank DePasquale, who owns more than a half dozen North End spots. “It’s a flaw to Italians.”

The recent addition to the lawsuit comes months after a federal court judge nearly dismissed the restauranteurs’ case altogether. In October, city attorneys argued that the argument had no legal standing and said “the collective impacts of temporary license expansion in the North End poses a significant quality of life burden.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.