Earlier this month, fans of Arturo's Uptown Italiano were surprised to find that Chef Arturo Boada himself was leaving the popular restaurant to start his own venture. And while he's busy redoing the old Bistro Don Camillo space for his new restaurant -- Arturo Boada Cuisine -- something else is keeping him busy too: Boada has filed a trademark dilution lawsuit against former partner Bill Sadler.
"They are still calling the restaurant Arturo's but I'm not there anymore, I'm not an operational partner there, I'm not supervising or controlling the quality of the food that's being served there," Boada said in a phone call on Monday afternoon.
Because, he says, he was only a 49 percent owner in the restaurant that bore his name and was considered an employee by 51 percent owner Bill Sadler, Boada was surprised to find that he had no control over what the restaurant would continue to be named after Sadler terminated Boada in early March.
"Mr. Sadler has agreed to remove Arturo's name from many things about the restaurant, but has refused to remove it from all of the places that it exists," said Bill Helfand, attorney with Chamberlain Hrdlicka and all-around big gun civil trial lawyer who's representing Boada in his lawsuit against Sadler.
"This deceptively suggests to customers that Arturo is still involved with the restaurant."
"When Arturo was the executive chef, he allowed the restaurant to use his name," said Helfand. But there was no agreement in place with regard to future naming rights.
The firing took place shortly after Boada announced his plans for a new restaurant, Boada says. Boada expected, he says, as per a conversation with Sadler, to be able to continue at Arturo's as executive chef in what Helfand called "a reasonable, patient transition." But when, according to Boada, Sadler heard a rumor that Boada was poaching employees for the new restaurant, Boada was promptly let go.
Boada seemingly isn't as upset about his termination as he is about his name still being used at a restaurant where he no longer has any say or control. "I've had people calling me saying, 'What the hell is going on? What is going on with the quality of the food?'" he said. "They're altering a lot of my recipes without my authorization."
And that's when Boada filed his trademark dilution lawsuit.
"Texas recognizes that you own your own name, it's your first and foremost trademark," said Helfand. "And where there is potential for confusion or dilution of the name, Texas law protects you."
Sadler, for his part, seems unflapped. "We don't think it's a valid lawsuit," he said by phone this morning. "We're not worried about it."
"Arturo has taken it upon himself to do whatever he can to harm this business," he continued. "He hasn't been here in two months, and not only has our food not suffered but we've had 30 guests comment that it's gotten better in the last two months. Of the guests that have noticed he's been gone, none of them had anything bad to say about it. It's been a non-factor."
Who's been supervising the cooking since Boada has been gone? "[Seles Romero], who's actually been cooking the food in the past, has taken over as the head chef, and he's doing a great job," Sadler said. "The dishes are lighter and more delicate. He is a very talented young man and we're very happy to have him
Furthermore, Sadler stated, "Our business is up over 10 percent in the two months that he's been gone. So far, this is the best March since we opened our doors five years ago."
"We've spent five years building this brand up, and the restaurant's name is well-known and published all over the U.S. We feel very strongly that we're gonna be able to keep the name."
Helfand, however, claims otherwise. "Mr. Sadler has asked about a negotiation to resolve this, which we would go for. That would be our preference."
A hearing on the case is set for Friday, April 1. Helfand and Boada hope for a temporary injunction. They know that Sadler will likely not change the name of the restaurant "unless required to do so by the courts," said Helfand.
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Sadler responded, "It's not a comfortable position to be in but we're ready to defend ourselves."
"And we wish Arturo well in his venture."