What’s in a Name? Asia Market and Villa Arcos Struggle to Fix Brand Confusion

If you loved Asia Market before April 2015 and you're still going to the old location, you might not be aware it's no longer run by the original owners. Above is Lawrence and Noi Allen's new, full-fledged restaurant on Fulton.
If you loved Asia Market before April 2015 and you're still going to the old location, you might not be aware it's no longer run by the original owners. Above is Lawrence and Noi Allen's new, full-fledged restaurant on Fulton.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Lawrence and Noi Allen excitedly emailed members of Houston’s food media in February 2015 to announce they’d sold their cramped combination restaurant and grocery store on Cavalcade. They were building out a full-fledged restaurant at 4822 Fulton, which opened in September.

What they didn’t know was that the new owners would continue to operate under the Asia Market name, capitalizing on a humble but well-established brand with a loyal customer base that might not know the difference. In time, they made a nominal change, adding “Thai Lao Food” to the sign.

The old Asia Market location is run by new owners—not that an everyday customer would realize it since the name is so close to the original.
The old Asia Market location is run by new owners—not that an everyday customer would realize it since the name is so close to the original.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Lawrence Allen says that at one point, he had to demand that the new owners stop using the exact same menu. To this day, many people who stop in the old place might not know to seek out the long-time owners in the new one.

Some similar, massive confusion was created earlier this week, this time surrounding Villa Arcos, the revered East Houston taco place. Owner Yolanda Black Navarro passed away in November. Her sister, Dena Gutierres, announced on Facebook on January 3 that Villa Arcos would be moving and stated the old location needed massive repairs to be in compliance with City of Houston regulations. The original post began: "Attention Customers: Villa Arcos Tacos is Moving and expanding we will be known as; Texas Tacos and Barbecue." 

Culturemap Houston originally reported on the announcement. It turned out to not be both sides of the story. It seems that Christian Navarro, Yolanda Black Navarro’s son, inherited Villa Arcos and has no intention of closing up shop. Gutierres had been leasing the restaurant from her sister and operating as “Villa Arcos Tacos.”

After the death of founder Yolanda Black Navarro, confusion resulted over the Villa Arcos name when Navarro's sister, the restaurant operator for the past five years, decided to move her business.
After the death of founder Yolanda Black Navarro, confusion resulted over the Villa Arcos name when Navarro's sister, the restaurant operator for the past five years, decided to move her business.
Photo by Marco Torres

To try and straighten out things, Navarro hired public relations firm Kwirx Creative Public Relations, which has been contacting various media outlets to get the word out.

There are now TWO Facebook accounts. One is Villa Arcos Tacos, run by Gutierres. The other is The Original Villa Arcos, run by Navarro. Here’s an excerpt from the clarification post from The Original Villa Arcos account: 


VILLA ARCOS IS NOT RELOCATING

The iconic Villa Arcos is not relocating and will remain nestled in its long-time home in Houston’s 2nd ward. Owned by the late Yolanda Black Navarro and son Christian Navarro, Villa Arcos will continue to delight Houstonians with its award-winning breakfast tacos and other beloved recipes. For 38 years their restaurant has been a staple of the community, and they look forward to serving their loyal customers and friends for many years to come.

A recent post on social media by Villa Arcos current operator would lead some to believe that the famed restaurant is relocating, changing names, and even adding BBQ to its longstanding menu. None of these claims are true. In fact, they are completely false. Effective February 2, 2016, Yolanda Black Navarro’s son Christian Navarro will retain control of Villa Arcos. This means the same delicious breakfast tacos, cooked by some of the original chefs, in the same building, will continue!


So, the upshot is that Gutierres and her staff are relocating to Oak Leaf Smokehouse at 1000 Telephone, where they will operate as Texas Tacos & Barbecue while Navarro is fixing up the original space and will reopen the old keep Villa Arcos open. After the hubbub, the original Facebook post by Gutierres was modified to say, "Attention Customers: "Villa Arcos Tacos" is Moving we are not "Villa Arcos" and we will be expanding, we will be known as; Texas Tacos and Barbecue."

What’s in a name? When it comes to not confusing your customers, everything. Business owners should also take heed of the trials Good Dog Houston went through back when it was still only a food truck and not a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Originally, it was known as Good Dog Hot Dogs. A Colorado hot dog cart owner claimed that he'd been using the same name since 2003. Both companies rushed to file for trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Unfortunately, the Colorado cart owner managed to file first and the Houston company ultimately had to change its name. Rebranding costs—like having to repaint their truck and get new business cards—were substantial, but likely less than embarking on a lengthy court battle with no guarantee of winning the case.

To protect their business identity, owners should seek out the advice of an attorney, who may advise incorporating, filing for trademark and ensuring that buyers, business partners and operators are very clear on who owns the business name. Furthermore, partners should have their own, distinct business name and identity.

Yes, it might require paying some money up-front for an attorney to draw up the appropriate contracts and file the correct documents. However, look at it this way: you can get the attorneys involved early and keep things straight or get them involved later to straighten out a big mess. One approach is considerably easier—and probably less expensive—than the other. 


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