Hamburger Mary’s owner speaks out on lawsuit filed against DeSantis

ORLANDO, Fla. — Channel 9 sat down one-on-one with the owner of a local Hamburger Mary’s who’s now taking on Florida, saying a new and controversial law violates the first amendment.


However, people on the other side of the issue probably disagree.

The restaurant owner filed a lawsuit because of a law meant to keep children out of adult live performances.

The restaurant often hosts drag shows, and some said they believe Florida’s new law goes after drag shows.

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John Paonessa, the restaurant owner, said a new law signed by the governor threatens his liquor license and livelihood.

“You lose your liquor license, you’re going to lose your business,” he said.

The law states any establishment that allows children into adult live performances, which include sexual conduct, could have their permits pulled. The governor said it includes drag shows, though drag isn’t expressly mentioned in the bill.

READ: Hamburger Mary’s suing DeSantis over recent legislation targeting drag shows

“The government should not be able to step in, and parent your children and tell them what they can do when we’re running a show that is G rated,” Paonessa said.

He said he’s filing a lawsuit so that families can return to a popular show at his establishment.

He said it’s a first amendment concern, and that the law has already lead to 20% percent of his clients cancelling on a show that is geared towards families.

SEE: Tool frontman performs in drag during Central Florida show following new state legislation

“It’s a cast in costume,” Paonessa said. “They’re doing Broadway production numbers.”

His lawsuit argues the law is too broad, saying that vagueness around what conduct is not prohibited will have a chilling effect.

John Stemberger with Florida Family Policy Council said he helped draft the bill and lobbied for it. He said he doesn’t think Hamburger Mary’s lawsuit will hold up in court.

“The government has a compelling interest in protecting children from pornography and trash like this,” Stemberger said. “If they want to just have guys dressing up as girls, that’s one thing. But the moment that they start being sexually explicit, and that’s for a court to determine, then they’ll lose their license.”

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.