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Food by VICE

Ohio's Liquor Laws Won't Let This Restaurant Have Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Good Company in Cleveland claims it couldn't pass inspection unless it added M and W labels to the bathroom doors.

by Bettina Makalintal
May 30 2019, 1:00pm

Photo courtesy Jonah Oryszak

Since it opened in January, Good Company, a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, has had two bathrooms, and they haven't had gender markers on either. Still, when guests have to do their business, the appropriate option is pretty obvious, since each door has an illustration of what's inside: one has a toilet, and the other has a toilet and urinal. Now, however, that lack of labeling has put the restaurant at risk of losing its liquor license, as Cleveland 19 News first reported.

According to the terms of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, restaurants and bars must have "separate toilet facilities for men and women" in order to have a liquor permit. While owner Jonah Oryszak thought the illustrations made the distinctions clear enough, they didn't cut it during an inspection on Tuesday. Now, in order to keep selling alcohol—a necessity for a place that sells burgers and bar snacks—the restaurant has been forced to add "M" and "W" distinctions to its bathroom doors.

Owner Jonah Oryszak knew about the commission's bathroom door rules when he opened Good Company, since he'd dealt with it already at his other restaurant The Plum. "When we first opened, the inspector came through and was like, 'You've gotta get something up there [on the bathroom doors] so I can approve you.' We threw some stuff up there, but after they left, I just took it down," Oryszak told MUNCHIES. He said that among his restaurant-owning friends in the city, that's pretty common since the liquor inspector doesn't tend to visit often.

The liquor inspector had allegedly mentioned that the restaurant could get creative with its labeling, so an artist was commissioned for the illustrations. "I thought that was using their own sort of antiquated system against them by being like, well, the state of Ohio is going to associate a urinal with men because you know, it's backwards and stupid so that'll be good enough," Oryszak said, and the bathroom situation went unchecked for a few months. But the restaurant added a patio, and in order for it to open, it needed a visit from the liquor inspector.

During that inspection, Oryszak said, "She saw the drawings of the urinal and the toilet and she was like, 'No, no, no, this isn't going to work." The inspector allegedly asked him to add the labels on the spot, which he didn't want to do. Although he and the inspector butted heads on the topic, Oryszak said that she was "very, very nice," and even offered to leave and come back if he wanted to time for research. According to Oryszak, however, that would have put the approval on hold, and even a brief period without booze would cut into the restaurant's bottom line. "If we can't serve booze, we really can't operate the way we need to. We won't be able to pay anyone."

When MUNCHIES asked the Ohio Department of Commerce for more information, a representative wrote in an email, "For some background, a compliance agent was present at Good Company in Cleveland in response to a request for expansion of their permit premises. At no time was the liquor permit holder, Good Company, in jeopardy of losing their permit, and the request for expansion was approved."

the after picture of the bathrooms at good company in cleveland, ohio, with M and W labels added to the toilet illustrations on each door
Good Company's bathroom doors after the addition of M and W labels. Photo courtesy Jonah Oryszak.

To Oryszak, not only is it silly to wait for a bathroom when there's an empty, identical one right next to it, but to him, the situation points out the hypocrisy of the backlash he's seen from right-leaning commenters on local news websites. "If you're going to say, 'Less government, they shouldn't tell business what to do' when it comes to like, baking a gay wedding cake," he said, "then why all of a sudden are you like, 'No, they should definitely tell you to put genders on the doors?'"

Good Company has since updated its bathroom door illustrations with simple lettering, but Oryszak doesn't feel great about it. "I've seen people post the bathrooms on Instagram saying thank you to people who [have gender-neutral bathrooms]. I felt like I was betraying our guests," he said.

While he says that people have suggested simply taking the labels down again, he thinks there's an additional level of scrutiny on the restaurant right now. "As the way the law stands, we will operate within it right now, but we're definitely going to fight it behind the scenes," he said. "The spotlight's kind of on us a little bit, so I'd rather try to change it than try to get away with something."

UPDATE: After publication, Good Company posted on Instagram on Thursday that the Superintendent of Ohio's Division of Liquor Control had "called us to personally apologize for the restrooms." Alongside a video of the bathroom labels being removed, the restaurant wrote, "He said as far as he sees it we were complying with the law by having two available restrooms. As long as they are labeled as restrooms he doesn’t see the need to assign gender to them."