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A Missouri restaurant's minimum age policy gained national attention. Is it even legal?

(L)Jennifer Clemons, 50 The Grove, and Farrah Guy(right), 47 also The Grove, show their ID’s to Erica Rhodes(3rd from left) 36, Assistant Manager at Bliss Restraunt and hostess Tara (2nd from left) on Wednesday June 19, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
(L)Jennifer Clemons, 50 The Grove, and Farrah Guy(right), 47 also The Grove, show their ID’s to Erica Rhodes(3rd from left) 36, Assistant Manager at Bliss Restraunt and hostess Tara (2nd from left) on Wednesday June 19, 2024.

Bliss Restaurant in Florissant allows only women over 30 and men over 35 to dine there — saying they want an older audience. Some experts are wary of the rule’s legality and ethics.

St. Louis residents Farrah Guy and Jennifer Clemons heard about a new restaurant from videos on TikTok, so last week they drove to Florissant to check it out.

Past the unassuming storefront, they stepped inside to loud reggae music, waitresses walking around with plates of African and Caribbean-inspired dishes and smoke drifting from hookah pipes.

The two women, both over 45, were immediately asked by the hostess to show their IDs.

Bliss Restaurant has gained national attention in recent weeks, but not for its Afro Caribbean cuisine — it’s been sparking conversation online for its minimum age requirements.

Bliss only allows women over 30 and men over 35 to dine at its establishment. The owners, Marvin and Tina Pate, said this rule was always in their vision for the restaurant in an effort to cater to people in their 30s and 40s.

“Because of the maturity that we noticed from being at adult resorts and different people that they’ll want to be around [people] their age, we just kind of came up with where people would like to be around their comfort zone,” Marvin Pate said.

The owners said they have nothing against younger people; they just wanted to focus on an older audience.  

(L-R) Nae Davis, 31 from Collinsville IL and Lead Waitress at Bliss Restaurant takes or from Shai 58 and Michael 48 Frazier of Pasadena Hills on Wednesday June 19, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Nae Davis, 31 from Collinsville IL and Lead Waitress at Bliss Restaurant takes or from Shai 58 and Michael 48 Frazier of Pasadena Hills on Wednesday June 19, 2024.

Possible legal issues

Much of the conversation about Bliss’ rules has been centered around the difference in age requirements for men and women. While many commentators on the business’ social media say this is because men are more immature than women, the owners said the rules aren’t based on differences in maturity.

“It’s typically that women like to hang in groups and enjoy women’s nights out and things like that rather than men at that age,” Marvin Pate said. “Men tend to do it more at 35, where they settle down. Women more settle down at the age of 30.”

But these gender-based age requirements might be in violation of Missouri law, according to Travis Crum, an associate law professor at Washington University.

A customer at Bliss Restaurant in Florissant MO enjoys a Red Snapper with Fried Plantains on Wednesday June 19. 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A customer at Bliss Restaurant in Florissant MO enjoys a Red Snapper with Fried Plantains on Wednesday June 19. 2024.

Bartender at Bliss Restaurant in Florissant pours the drink ‘Royal Kiss’ which has Don Julio Reposado, Triple Sec and Lemonade on Wednesday June 19, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Bartender at Bliss Restaurant in Florissant pours the drink ‘Royal Kiss’ which has Don Julio Reposado, Triple Sec and Lemonade on Wednesday June 19, 2024.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin and religion for public accommodations, which are defined as facilities that are used by or provide goods or services to the public. The Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the same categories but also on the basis of sex or gender.

“Bliss could set an age limit if it wanted to,” Crum said. “That’s because there’s no restriction on discriminating on the basis of age in federal or state public accommodations law. However, what’s problematic about Bliss’ policy is that it uses a person’s sex to determine what age limit applies to them.”

The Pates believe this law doesn’t apply to them because they’re a private business. They said they talked to a couple of attorneys about the rules but are still unclear on how the laws apply to their business.

Crum said Bliss is a modern-day example of Craig v. Boren, a 1976 landmark Supreme Court case that ruled sex classifications were subject to scrutiny under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The court struck down an Oklahoma law that allowed men to buy low-alcohol beer at age 21, women at 18.

When asked if they would consider changing the policy if someone took legal action, Marvin Pate said they’ll cross that bridge when they get there.

Big Kia P.(Center) 33 from North County area enjoys dinner with friends at Bliss Restraunt on Wednesday June 19, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Big Kia P.(Center) 33 from North County area enjoys dinner with friends at Bliss Restraunt on Wednesday June 19, 2024.

‘Youngism’ and its implications

The restaurant’s Facebook page advertises the establishment as intended for “the grown and sexy” to “ensure a mature, sophisticated, and safe” dining experience. Michael North, professor of management and operations at New York University, studies what he calls “youngism,” or ageism targeting younger adults. He said language and rules that assume the behavior of a group of people is troublesome.

“I think it’s problematic when you start to overgeneralize about any social category, assuming that every single member of that social category is automatically going to act in a certain way,” North said. “You do run this risk of separating generations who already seem quite divided.”

He said while younger people have often faced ageism, it’s becoming a bigger problem now for several reasons.

His research shows people of all ages hold the most negative views of young adults, and today’s younger generations face special circumstances such as economic instability and political polarization. Because of this, North said rules like Bliss’ that exclude younger people affect them negatively.

“That’s a really insidious recipe, where you’re risking excluding the very people who probably need a little bit more opportunity in order to feel better about the trajectory that their lives are on,” he said.

North argued that ageism is the most socially condoned form of discrimination, something he said he finds interesting since it’s the only demographic category that everyone eventually joins, assuming they live a full life.

“The fact that this [rule] was even instituted and implemented in the first place really underscores how when it comes to age, for whatever reason, we don’t treat it the same way that we do other demographic categories when it comes to worrying about exclusion, or on the flip side, fostering equality,” he said.

Tina Pate said they didn't mean to make young people feel excluded.

“It was never our intent to create this whole discrimination thing with age or gender, anything like that,” she said. “This is just a personal preference that involved a lot of conversations that we’ve been in with our age group, and felt like we were answering a demand.”

Marvin Pate owner at Bliss Restraunt poses for a portrait on Wednesday June 19, 2024. Bliss made national news recently for only allowing patrons over the age of 30 for women and 35 for men into the restaurant.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Marvin Pate owner at Bliss Restraunt poses for a portrait on Wednesday June 19, 2024. Bliss made national news recently for only allowing patrons over the age of 30 for women and 35 for men into the restaurant.

Responding to the attention

The Pates said the national attention on their month-old business has been overwhelming. But they said they’re glad to have received the publicity, adding that reservations often fill up quickly.

“It’s been opening a lot of conversation, and also making people think outside the box,” Tina Pate said. “I think that as everyone gets older, your interests may change, and your view on things may change. The environment that you want to be around may change. I think that just all goes hand in hand.”

Many comments on Bliss’ Facebook page call out the business for limiting diversity and inclusivity in its rules. Marvin Pate said he disagrees.

“It’s bringing more diversity for the people of the age group that we brought,” he said. "With this, we’re able to get them out the house, come and have a good time, eat some good food, chat with people that you never even knew live next door to you.”

Jackie Parchmon, 51, from Dellwood; takes a photo of Terrie Parchmon, 53 also from Dellwood at Bliss Restaurant  in Florissant MO on Wednesday June 19, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jackie Parchmon, 51, from Dellwood; takes a photo of Terrie Parchmon, 53 also from Dellwood at Bliss Restaurant in Florissant MO on Wednesday June 19, 2024.

While most of the media attention has been on the restaurant’s age requirements, he said he’s focusing more on the positive feedback from older adults and those who have enjoyed their experience at the restaurant.

“What we would like people to understand is that we basically just answered the demand that we feel the world needed, on a national level, for our age group,” he said.

Jennifer Clemons, the customer who dined at Bliss with her friend recently, said she appreciates the age requirement.

“Coming from an environment where we’re always running into the younger crowd, I don’t mind them having their space, but I really wanted somewhere to go to be able to mingle with people of the same age and have the same commonalities,” Clemons said.

Marvin Pate said they’re considering an idea for another restaurant, this time catered toward younger people. In the meantime, the owners said they hope to start providing a takeout option for those who are restricted from dining in the restaurant.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Madison Holcomb
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