It's the clash of the Longhorn Steakhouse titans down south in Corpus Christi, where a local chain of steakhouses with a name similar to the national LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants has filed a federal lawsuit over a lobster baked potato.
It's more complicated than that, of course, but the lobster baked potato -- a not-too-terrific-sounding dish in the first place -- is at the heart of the suit filed by The Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant and Longhorn Steak & Ale, both of which have been serving their steaks in Corpus Christi since 1989.
The national LongHorn chain has been around since 1981, but has only been a national presence since it expanded in 1991 under the direction of Darden Restaurants, Inc., which also runs such chains as Olive Garden and Eddie V's.
For the sake of simplicity, we'll call the Corpus restaurants the Plaintiffs and we'll call the national LongHorn chain the Defendant, because that is the only way you can read the lawsuit and make sense of it.
The Defendant, based in Florida, recently began running a statewide promotion on two items: sirloin-and-crab-stuffed mushrooms and a lobster-topped baked potato, but it was apparently the latter of the two that proved to be a huge draw for residents of the coastal Texas city. And although there is not yet a LongHorn Steakhouse location in Corpus Christi, the Defendants are building one there soon.
It was this combination that caused confused dinner-seekers to wander into the Plaintiffs' similarly named restaurants in search of a lobster baked potato. When no such potato was found, the lawsuit alleges, "...the customers would then get aggravated because the advertised item being offered by defendants was not available in plaintiffs' restaurants."
The Defendant also sells gift cards (being a national chain, which makes a great deal of sense) and confused Corpus Christi diners were also allegedly bringing those gift cards into the Plaintiffs' restaurants and demanding the cards be honored there -- despite the fact that the restaurants are in no way related to each other.
The natural reaction to this, of course, was not to gently remind diners of this fact, but rather to file a federal lawsuit against Darden Restaurants, Inc. and the LongHorn Steakhouse chain for "false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, unfair competition and trademark dilution under state law."
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The Plaintiffs hope to bar Darden and LongHorn from using their name or branding in Corpus Christi "or any other names or marks confusingly similar thereto in the Corpus Christi, Texas area" as, clearly, things are only going to get more confusing for Corpus diners in the ensuing months -- with or without the involvement of lobster baked potatoes.
Requests for comment from both parties were not immediately returned.