PORTLAND — The owner of an Amato’s sandwich shop is suing the federal government over the shop’s loss of eligibility for the food stamp program, saying it will cost the business as much as $30,000 a year.

Steven Roderick, who owns and operates Amato’s of Norway, contends that the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services was made arbitrarily. He sued in U.S. District Court on Monday.

The central issue appears to be whether Amato’s – best known for Italian sandwiches – is a food retailer or a restaurant.

According to the lawsuit, Roderick applied to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a food retailer in 2009. An inspector visited the business in October. Roderick was notified in March that his eligibility was being withdrawn because the business operated primarily as a restaurant.

Roderick had the decision reviewed and provided photographs to show that the business carries products required by the food stamps program.

The program’s final decision said it wasn’t clear that the Amato’s in Norway was primarily a restaurant, but it upheld the suspension on other grounds, according to the lawsuit.

Dana Hanley, Roderick’s lawyer, said it isn’t exactly clear why the decision was made. He said he hopes it will become evident as the case progresses.

Roderick declined to comment on the case.

Food stamp benefits can be used for items like bread, produce, meat and dairy products. They cannot be used for hot foods or foods to be eaten inside a store.

Amato’s menu includes hot and cold sandwiches, pizza, pasta dishes and salads. It also has catering services and sells a line of sauces.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]