A bar where you can eat mass quantities of free peanuts and then discard their shells directly over your shoulder and onto the floor sounds like a great idea, in theory, at least. And the proliferation of drinking establishments around the US that allow this practice is living proof that people love to litter freely, even if it's food waste and especially if it's indoors. (I happened to grow up within a five-mile radius of no less than three bars that allowed this, and the novelty factor felt enormous.)
But there's (at least) one problem with allowing the linoleum floors of your watering hole to become positively covered in sawdust-like remnants of ground peanut husk: Uh, it gets really slippery. As any female-identifying person who has tried to gracefully shuffle through one of these bars in heels can attest, walking in human hamster shavings that prevent shoe-to-ground traction can be treacherous.
Just ask Nancy Zappia, a woman who recently filed a lawsuit against Nick's Pizza and Pub in Elgin, Illinois, after she slipped and fell on a ramp in the restaurant that she says was coated in a hazardous layer of peanut debris, negligently left to accumulate by the staff. The incident took place in January 2016, and according to the Daily Herald, Zappia is now seeking more than $50,000 in damages after she sustained serious injuries from the fall that cost her more than $75,000 in medical bills.
On the restaurant's Yelp page, many patrons note the peanuts—and the option of throwing their shells on the floor—as a star attraction of the restaurant, although several note that the nuts could present a danger for people who suffer from nut allergies. At least 70 reviews on the restaurant's Yelp page mention the peanuts in some capacity.
"Careful if you have a peanut allergy, they still let you dump the shells on the floor here, we love that, but I know it could be dangerous for some," Yelp user Lindsay J. wrote in December of 2016.
"Love the peanuts you can chomp on and throw the shells on the floor. 'NUT ALLERGY,'" added Brad N. last October.
The peanuts are clearly an integral part of the Nick's Pizza and Pub experience. But Zappia's attorney, Paul Millewich, defended his client's choice to file a lawsuit that he knows some might consider "frivolous."
"She's out of the hospital but not in good shape," Millewich told the Daily Herald, adding, "Peanut shells on a flat surface are one thing. Peanut shells on an incline, on a ramp, that's dangerous."
Nick Sarillo, the eponymous owner of the restaurant, argued that patrons love the peanuts, shells and all, and that "The peanut shells actually make the (wood) floor less slippery, but the perception is shells can make people slip. We're not doing anything wrong or doing anything to hurt anybody." (Again, I would recommend asking someone in stilettos or even cheap flats whether they agree, but hey.)
Sarillo also told the Herald that the peanut shell policy will remain in place: "You do your best to have something unique and different, and as things start to go well, next thing you know you have a target on your back with some people."
MUNCHIES has reached out to Sarillo for further comment on the lawsuit but has not yet received a response.
Last year, Nick's Pizza and Pub was selected as one of Forbes's 2017 Best Small Companies, honored for serving as a "sort of community center" for locals and for valuing "greatness over growth." On a section of its website titled "Pizza with a Purpose," the restaurant, which has three locations, states that one of its values is to "provide a clean and safe environment for our guests and team members."
Nick's Pizza and Pub is not the first restaurant to face a lawsuit of this kind. Louisville, KY-based steakhouse chain Texas Roadhouse has faced at least three lawsuits from customers who have slipped and been injured on its peanut-covered floors, resulting in a payout of $43,000 to one woman in 2008 and a "confidential settlement" with another who sought $1 million in 2013; in 2016, an Iowa man also sued after falling and shattering his knee. And in 2012, an Alabama restaurant called Logan's Roadhouse was sued after a woman broke her femur in a peanut-husk-related fall.
The pizzeria will return to court on April 17 to continue defending its peanut policy. In the meantime, watch your step if you're surrounded by any peanut shells, puddles of spilled beer, or even a good ol' banana peel.