Dish

Sue for Your Supper

Although it has negative connotations, "petty" isn't necessarily a bad adjective. (It's derived from the French word petit, which means small.) There's a petty officer, which is an officer appointed from enlisted personnel. Petty cash is kept on hand to pay for minor items. And petty larceny carries less of a penalty than, say, grand theft.

But when it comes to lawsuits, disregard all positive associations with the word. Particularly when those suits involve big corporate restaurant chains suing small, aspiring projects. Then we have only two definitions for petty: the Cheesecake Factory and Rascal House.

In the first case, national chain the Cheesecake Factory served Nexxt Café, which has been booming since it opened in May on Lincoln Road, with papers a few weeks ago. The corporate bigwigs are alleging that Nexxt, a coffee bar with an extensive food menu, stole employees and secret recipes from the Cheesecake Factory, and was offering dishes similar to the chain's.

Nonsense, says Nexxt attorney Andrew Rosenblatt, who told the Los Angeles Daily Newsthat the suit "has the consistency of watery mashed potatoes." He insists that, because the ingredients for the dishes are listed on The Cheese's menu, they're in the public domain. Stephen Nagin, The Cheese's lawyer, counters that the recipes are protected because, "What's listed on the menu does not include all the ingredients or how to make the items."

So fault Nexxt for no imagination. Any two-burner cook worth his salt can dummy up a recipe from a roll call of foodstuffs. And as for Nagin comparing the supposed rip-off to "stealing Coca-Cola's recipe," my apologies, but let's face it: Nexxt may be paying the going rate of ten grand a month for a spot on Lincoln Road, but the eatery is hardly Pepsi.

In fact Nexxt, owned by the BOC Group, has a total of one restaurant. The Cheese, a public company with shares that sell for $28.63, operates 30. Hardly a rival. Even if the coffee bar plans to institute a chain of imitation Cheeses, in the current climate of restaurant downsizing, chances are it won't succeed. Just ask the owners of erstwhile chain wannabes such as It's New York or Aztec World Café, two multimillion-dollar test locales that were launched in Fort Lauderdale to a reception so chilly the cash flows froze.

Or call China Grill Management. Its high-tech eateries China Grill Café and Zen Sum, one of which was in the Aventura Mall, where The Cheese is always packed, bellied up after the two locations did so little business even the robotic waiters complained about the lack of tips. Last we heard China Grill was going to try again with a café in Aventura, this time called Newsroom Café. We can see the lawsuit over that one miles away.

Course Nexxt wasn't so innocent either. I noticed the similarities to The Cheese the very first time I dined there (lettuce wraps with satay chicken and Chinese condiments, anyone?) and the fact that the coffee bar changed the menu extensively only days after being sued doesn't alleviate suspicions of wrongdoing. F for subtlety.

Then there's Flakowitzrestaurateur Robert Pirozzi, who received a (private) written warning from Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House to cease alleged attempts "to learn Rascal House recipes, trade secrets, and other proprietary information," and took it public.

The certified letter, penned by Rascal House attorneys-at-law Katz, Barron, Squitero, Faust, and Berman, a Miami firm, names the Deerfield Beach location as its primary focus. But the pre-emptive strike was mailed to all the affiliated Flakowitz delis and bakeries in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Problem is, the Flakowitz delis are neither a chain nor a franchise; each is individually owned. Frankly it's pretty hard to buy the theory that a chicken soup conspiracy has been cooked up by a bunch of Flakowitz proprietors who not only have nothing to do with one another, but who are actually in competition.

Rascal House general manager Mark Vasturo would like us to believe that Flakowitz delis are desperate for publicity. In reality Pirozzi is pissed because, while he founded the Deerfield Beach restaurant, he sold it some months ago; he says he shouldn't even be the primary target. Now the only Flakowitz he runs is in Boca Raton. Furthermore the letter states that this is the second time the Deerfield Beach Flakowitz has attempted to woo employees away from Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House, but Pirozzi's manager, Sandra Catusi, says the letter is "the first we've heard of the problem."

And let's not be fooled by the Rascal House legacy, either. Yes the deli is a 50-year-old Miami Beach landmark with a 16-month-old sibling restaurant in Boca Raton, and we cherish the long lines, the kooky characters, and the solid Jewish delicatessen specialties. The pair of eateries, however, is not owned by original Rascal House proprietor Wolfie Cohen, but by Jerry's Famous Delis, a Los Angeles corporation that operates West Coast restaurants as well as Epicure Market on Miami Beach. That makes the squabble more of a muscle-flexing display and less of a legitimate turf war. Publicity over the bagel battle actually brings up something Jerry should want us to forget: Earlier this year an elderly woman was robbed and killed in the parking lot of the Boca Rascal House.

And here's a kicker: Flakowitz owner Robert Pirozzi is planning on starting a new deli in, you guessed it, the Aventura Mall. Should make for some cozy dining.

 
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