Food Fight

Has Torchy's Tacos Been Ripped Off Again?

Bandito's Taco Grill in Rosenberg makes some good looking tacos. They're also, according to a few tipsters, a little too similar to tacos they've seen at another restaurant, Torchy's Tacos. And they also resemble the tacos at Texas Taco Co., whose former employee was sued by Torchy's for allegedly stealing proprietary recipes. The common denominator in both of the thorns in Torchy's side? A fellow named Adrian Hembree.

According to a reader, who emailed us recently asking us to look into Hembree's dealings in Rosenberg, the entrepreneur and restaurateur is using Torchy's recipes again. Back in October, we told you about a lawsuit brought against former Torchy's cook Mario DeJesus, accused of stealing the Torchy's "Taco Bible" with all its recipes and giving it to Texas Taco Co. The suit states that DeJesus began working for Texas Taco Co. shortly after he was fired from Torchy's for the theft, and then Texas Taco Co. began producing products startlingly similar to those sold at Torchy's. The president and secretary of Texas Taco Co.? Adrian Hembree.

A month later, CultureMap reported that Hembree was also being sued by Anthony Russo of local chain Russo's NY Pizzeria for--you guessed it--stealing proprietary information about recipes. Hembree, his wife Gina, and their business partner Ravinder Syal (a man who'd previously been sued for failing to pay rent at the Fish Place Café) opened a pizza place called Gina's Italian Kitchen, which, Russo claims, makes use of proprietary Russo's NY Pizzeria information.

Now, according to the tipster, Hembree and company are at it again.

We examined the menus of both Torchy's Tacos and Bandito's Taco Grill and found a few similarities.

For example, the "Crossroads" on Torchy's menu is described as "Smoked beef brisket with grilled onions, jalapeños, cilantro, jack cheese and a slice of avocado."

The "Santo" on the Bandito's menu is described as "Slow braised shredded beef brisket, grilled onions, jalapeños, cilantro, avocado, mixed cheese."

Compare the menus for yourself, and you'll find a few more similarities, though none as blatant as what we saw previously at Texas Taco Co. or Gina's Italian Kitchen. Granted, many tacos all over town are fairly similar, so it could be a coincidence.

The tipster also tells us that Hembree is no longer with Texas Taco Co., having left after the allegations of misconduct surfaced, but according to his LinkedIn page, he's still involved with Texas Taco Co., Gina's Italian Kitchen and The Fish Place. It also notes that he's currently president of Hembree Management Group, which works with "existing mulit-unit concepts in order to improve various aspects of overall business performance."

Calls to Hembree have not yet been returned.

What do you think? Is Bandito's a Torchy's rip-off? Will you be checking it out?

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Kaitlin Steinberg