Food, Texas

If You Outlaw Tacos, Only Outlaws Will Have Tacos

This is an absurd lawsuit. It’s about tacos. Because Elie spent today at CNBC appearing on Power Lunch along with Staci, I get to write this story instead, which is probably for the best because I can emotionally distance myself from the possibility that a taco dispensary may have to go out of business.

Two restaurants are squaring off in court over allegedly purloined taco recipes.

Yes, Biglaw partners are actually making statements about taco litigation…

The conflict is between Torchy’s Tacos and Texas Taco Co., known as the “Home of the Outlaw Tacos.” This is Torchy’s beef:

Torchy’s Tacos, founded in Austin and with 20 outlets around Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, contends the “chef-inspired” items touted on the menu at the three-store Texas Taco Co. chain are indeed inspired — by Torchy’s — and the result of “theft of trade secrets and breaches of duties” by a former employee who wound up working at the smaller Houston upstart.

In a Harris County lawsuit, Torchy’s seeks unspecified damages and a court injunction blocking use of confidential information gathered from Torchy’s “Taco Bible.” It also seeks surrender of any information copied from the book, “which contains a start-to-finish recipe and process guide for every one of Torchy’s food items.”

The “Taco Bible” is a thing? Tacos and Bibles shouldn’t be in the same sentence unless you’ve found the Virgin Mary on a tortilla. Torchy’s doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. Look, Mexican food really isn’t that complex:

As Jim Gaffigan notes, it’s really all just tortillas with cheese, meat, or vegetables. There’s no need to get all complicated. This is why food isn’t generally protected by intellectual property laws. Unless your taco craps ice cream, it’s going to be pretty run-of-the-mill. Recipes, on the other hand, can get some protection under certain circumstances. Torchy’s explains how its “Taco Bible” is a unique work:

And that’s where Torchy’s says its bible and “Build Book” separate it from the competition. The books spell out for employees how the food materials are combined, the order they’re cooked, the proportions and how the items are assembled.

Or in other words, “a cookbook.”

Torchy’s is represented by Allan Neighbors IV from Littler Mendelson, and he calls Texas Taco a “blatant Torchy’s rip-off.” He’s armed with some grainy security camera footage, because that’s how serious these people are about their f**king tacos:

Torchy’s says a security camera in the kitchen in one of its Houston stores on March 6 captured DeJesus, who began working there in December 2011, slipping a copy of the “Taco Bible” under his shirt, walking over to a nearby trash can and then taking the can outside.

A Torchy’s manager spotted the activity on the video and DeJesus was ordered to return the book. That happened about six hours later. DeJesus then was fired, court documents said.

Meanwhile, Texas Taco’s attorney Matthew Hoeg of Andrews Kurth maintains that his client breached no duties or obligations. DeJesus may have a harder case because apparently Torchy’s makes employees sign non-disclosure agreements upon hiring.

A hearing is coming up next month.

Just how similar are these recipes?

For example, Texas Taco’s “William Travis” is described as: “Hand-battered and fried Portobello mushroom strips with refried black beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro & avocado. Drizzled with ancho aioli on a flour tortilla.”

That’s also the verbatim menu listing for Torchy’s “Republican.”

Why is the vegetarian taco called the “Republican” exactly? Shouldn’t the “Republican” involve 3 kinds of BBQ and the tears of unwed mothers? As it turns out, the CBS story is wrong: the described taco is actually the “Independent.” The “Republican” is actually a sausagefest, which makes a ton more sense.

Competing Texas Taco Restaurants Have Legal Beef [CBS DFW]

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