Bastille Day fete will proceed - with foie gras

Posted: July 13, 2007

London Grill owner Terry Berch McNally will celebrate Bastille Day tomorrow as usual - by dressing up as Marie Antoinette and reenacting the storming of the Bastille in 1789, a symbol of French uprising and nationhood.

She'll also offer foie gras at her Fairmount Avenue restaurant, in the shadow of the massive Eastern State Penitentiary.

Meanwhile, protesters who want to ban the French delicacy were ordered yesterday not to disrupt the "uprising" - or at a minimum to stay 50 feet away from the restaurant and leave their bullhorns home.

Since late May, Hugs for Puppies, a local nonprofit animal-rights group, has staged numerous boisterous weekend protests outside the restaurant in an attempt to have foie gras dropped from the menu.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Gary F. DiVito ruled yesterday that Hugs for Puppies must limit its Bastille Day activity to four people quietly handing out pamphlets.

Yesterday's hearing on whether to extend a temporary restraining order was part of the ongoing battle between Philadelphia restaurants and Hugs for Puppies over foie gras - the enlarged liver of force-fed ducks or geese. The group also has protested at restaurants including Le Bec-Fin, Amada and Ansill.

London Grill serves butter from foie gras on its hanger steak at lunch and recently added foie gras as an appetizer special for $10 to $15.

Restaurant owners argue that foie gras is good for business, while Hugs for Puppies says force-feeding ducks and geese is cruel and unnatural.

Foie gras - already banned in California, Chicago and 16 countries - could face similar sanctions in Philadelphia. A bill to ban foie gras is pending in City Council's Licenses and Inspections Committee.

Hugs for Puppies members said yesterday that 34 restaurants in the city already had dropped foie gras from their menus, mostly in response to the group's pleas - and demonstrations.

"We believe in the freedom of choice, and we don't think that it's a cruel practice," said McNally, who said the protests had been disruptive to her business.

Nick Cooney, director of the West Philadelphia-based Hugs for Puppies, said his group had stayed within the bounds of law and never had any plans to disrupt the Bastille Day festivities.

"We don't want to interrupt everyone's fun at a festival. That wouldn't be constructive," said Cooney, a vegan.

Three months ago Cooney, 26, was sentenced to 18 months' probation after he was found guilty of harassment and making terroristic threats during a confrontation outside a GlaxoSmithKline facility in Philadelphia.

The protests against London Grill escalated last weekend, and the owners - McNally and her former husband, Michael - asked for an emergency temporary restraining order, which DiVito granted until a hearing could be held yesterday.

Jenny Holcomb, the restaurant's general manager, testified yesterday that Hugs for Puppies had violated the restraining order Saturday when it distributed leaflets in her neighborhood listing her address. She testified that protesters had shouted over a bullhorn at the restaurant: "We know where little Jenny Holcomb sleeps at night."

Cooney said in an interview that the decision to do this was in retaliation for a visit Terry McNally made to his neighborhood in Mantua on June 10. He said she made "racist comments about us to our neighbors" by calling Hugs for Puppies members "skinny white kids."

McNally testified she only wanted to talk with the group members.

According to testimony yesterday from London Grill employees, protesters called restaurant patrons in the outdoor dining area "fat" and made statements such as "You all deserve to die of cancer." The protesters called restaurant owners "duck rapists" and "scumbags."

One group member, Mark Fonda, 32, paced the sidewalk near outdoor tables with a flat-screen television around his neck showing a video of foie gras processing.

Hugs for Puppies members maintained they were victimized, too. Dezeray Rubinchik, 29, testified that while she was protesting with Hugs for Puppies in June, chef and co-owner Michael McNally attempted to strike her with a raised fist. She also said a seemingly drunken restaurant patron had threatened to "shoot [her] in the head."

Yesterday's preliminary injunction altered some of the stipulations in the emergency restraining order.

Now, the protesters cannot come within 50 feet - rather than 100 - of the restaurant, protest for more than an hour at a time - rather than 30 minutes - or more than two times in one week, and still cannot protest during dinner hours or on Saturdays and Sundays.

Cooney said the ruling was unfair and "unconstitutional."

The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Hugs for Puppies, Mary Catherine Roper, said: "We think this injunction is more severe than is necessary to take care of the London Grill."

Terry McNally said she was happy with the ruling, so long as it was enforced.

Cooney said he planned to appeal the decision, but his lawyer would not confirm that.


Contact staff writer Katie Stuhldreher at 215-854-2601 or kstuhldreher@phillynews.com.

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