Restaurant Reviews

Battlin' Beignets

Joachim Jantzen didn't much like his job as night manager of Crescent City Beignets [3260 Westheimer, (713)520-8291], admits his wife, Teda, because he wasn't overly fond of the owner, 32-year-old Tucker Bunch. But Jantzen was working on his master's degree by day and needed to work by night, so he stuck it out for more than a year. He worked hard, by all accounts, so diligently that many customers assumed he owned the store.

When Jantzen finally got fed up and quit, it was Bunch's turn to be unhappy. He begged Jantzen to come back, says Teda. When that didn't work, Bunch sourly told Crescent City customers that Jantzen had been "let go" and predicted that he wouldn't be able to find another job.

The German-born Jantzens, meanwhile, decided that they could do as well or better than Bunch at the beignet business, so they opened their own store, Chez Beignets [5243 Buffalo Speedway, (713)592-9777]. Now, Bunch was really unhappy. Teda says Bunch enlisted his brother Wayne, who opened Crescent City's second location at 1818 Fountainview and also happens to be a lawyer, to initiate a lawsuit against Jantzen for "stealing company secrets."

"My husband has 40 years' experience in food service and trained as an executive chef," Teda says indignantly. "He didn't need beignet instructions from Mr. Bunch. We developed our very own beignet base. Besides, our store looks entirely different from those Crescent City stores, and we emphasize a French theme, not a Louisiana theme. We're completely different, and Mr. Bunch is just harassing us. It's a frivolous lawsuit that's going to cost us a lot of time and money."

The twist in this beignet bickering is that Tucker Bunch himself was threatened with a copycatting lawsuit shortly after opening his first beignet store. Bunch's Crescent City Beignets operation was known as Coffee Call until it was renamed by customers in a well-publicized contest last February. At the time, Tucker told the Houston Chronicle he wanted to rechristen the stores because "the name Coffee Call doesn't communicate what [our] business is really about."

"He just stole our name, that's all," says John Cannatella, whose father owns Coffee Call in Baton Rouge. "He came here and toured our store and talked with us, then he went off to Houston and stole our name." Cannatella demanded that he stop using the Coffee Call name. Bunch refused. "So I told him 'I'll see you in court,' " says Cannatella.

"That situation ended very amicably," says lawyer Wayne Bunch, returning a call made to his brother. "We recognized that [Cannatella's] family had been using the name for a long time, longer than we had." Eventually he and the Cannatella family's attorney agreed out of court that the Bunches would find a new name for their beignet outlets within 90 days, and so the Bunches kicked off the contest.

Cannatella also suspects that Tucker Bunch made off with some of his family's beignet secrets. "I believe he paid one of our employees $20 to find out where we mill our beignet flour. Then he wound up using that same company to do his."

Did Tucker Bunch steal, or try to steal, secrets from the Cannatella family? "Absolutely not," says Wayne, volunteering, "We use different vendors for all of our products."

Meanwhile, the Jantzens have retained an attorney. Their attempts at negotiation have gone nowhere, they say; so as far as the Jantzens know, the Bunch brothers fully intend to pursue the lawsuit against them. Neither Bunch would make any comment whatsoever on the subject of Jantzen.

On hearing about the lawsuit, Cannatella laughs. "Oh, I just can't believe that," he says bitterly. "How could such an unethical, underhanded person sue someone else over ethics?"

-- Margaret L. Briggs

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Margaret L.Briggs