Ismael and Gisela Soriano liked El Palacio de los Jugos -- the Calle Ocho and Coral Way shrines to chicharrones and batidos -- so much they decided to open two of their own in Homestead and Hialeah, calling them Zoe El Palacio de los Jugos, according to a recently filed lawsuit.
Imitation might be the best form of flattery. However, on Monday, attorneys for Reinaldo and Apolonia Bermudez, who've owned the original restaurant-cum-market since the late 1980s, filed suit against the Sorianos and their company, Lemuel Investments Corporation.
The complaint claims the alleged impostors have damaged the longstanding restaurant's reputation and duped customers into thinking they were buying food from the original El Palacio locations. Palacio is a must-stop when any culinary talking head drops into town to shoot a show.
"A consumer should know when they're actually getting El Palacio," said Jorge Espinosa, an attorney for the Bermudezes.
This latest dustup is nothing new in the telenovela of Cuban restaurant litigation. For decades, various companies and individuals have fought over who owns the now-ubiquitous Latin American Cafeteria restaurants. The originals were owned by Raul Galindo and his brother Luis, now deceased. The pair came from Cuba and at one point owned nine shops. In 2011, Galindo got back in front of the sangwiche press, partnering with Robert Quintero to open a shop on SW 12th Avenue and First Street.
Meanwhile, El Palacio has been fighting a string of wannabes for at least five years. This battle has been going on since 2009. The Sorianos opened the two Zoe El Palacio locations in question in 2008 and filed for a trademark the following year.
Some legal wrangling followed, but no serious action was taken because of the crippling cost of trademark suits.
"We were able to knock out a few of the infringers, and they took a little bit of breather because financially it's very draining," Espinosa said. He estimated the cost of filing a trademark infringement and getting an injunction to temporarily close a business or force owners to change the name at about $40,000. That's a whole lot of arroz imperial.
When they learned that the Sorianos were planning a third location at 3435 NW Seventh St., close to a new El Palacio, enough was enough.
"They had to end it," Espinosa said.
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