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Franchise Squawks About Rival Roaster Lawsuit Forces Restaurant To Change Name
Franchise Squawks About Rival Roaster
By Willoughby Mariano | Sentinel Staff Writer
January 4, 2004
Island flavor. (JULIE FLETCHER/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
KISSIMMEE -- This is a tale of two chickens.
Martin's BBQ is a household name in Puerto Rico. The 27-store rotisserie-chicken franchise is known for its secret spices and trademark emblem: a tough-looking rooster in a chef's hat with folded wings. The signs declare it "El Original!"
Martin's Family BBQ, on the other hand, is a cramped Kissimmee upstart near Bryan Street and John Young Parkway. Inside, racks of Puerto Rican-style roast chickens glow. But Martin's BBQ devotees may not realize the difference, according to its owners, who filed suit against the local restaurant, saying it is misleading customers in heavily Hispanic Osceola County by imitating El Original.
"People from Puerto Rico, if they see 'Martin's Family BBQ,' that will definitely bring back nostalgic memories," said state Rep. John Quinones, R-Kissimmee, a Puerto Rico-born attorney who represents the San Juan-based Martin's BBQ. "Their taste buds will make them remember something from Puerto Rico."
The confusion could be widespread: Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic group in Central Florida, numbering 162,555, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Osceola, which is nearly one-third Hispanic, registered a hefty 280 percent increase in the Puerto Rican population between 1990 and 2000.
Martin's BBQ claims the Kissimmee restaurant infringed on the San Juan company's trademark, may harm its reputation and hired away two of its former employees -- accusations the local restaurant denies, according to court documents. Plus, the business isn't really from Puerto Rico, it says. Martin's BBQ is seeking an injunction that will force the Kissimmee restaurant to change its name. No hearing date has been set.
Seasoned with tradition
But Israel Miranda Hornedo, co-owner of the non-chain Martin's, which opened in September, said he's just trying to start a little business featuring food from Puerto Rico based on family recipes. He said he means no harm.
"This is just one store, and they want us to change our name," said a frustrated Hornedo, who lives in Poinciana. He would not comment in detail about the allegations but wondered what all of the fuss was about. The restaurants are in two different countries, he argued.
"I say: 'You're not even in Florida. You're in Puerto Rico,' " he said, referring to the larger Martin's. In a response filed Dec. 22, owners of the Kissimmee restaurant denied they used the Martin's name to deceive customers but did not say how they came to use a similar name.
Martin's BBQ chicken is in a class of its own, said Marta Torres, head of administration for the Puerto Rican franchise. Since the early 1960s, when Martín Rosado opened his first restaurant in Bayamón, Martin's has built a reputation for serving traditional Puerto Rican or criollo food, seasoned to islanders' taste.
The centerpiece is tender roasted chicken rubbed with a secret mix of marjoram, peppers, garlic and other spices. You can order your choice of sides: rice and beans, french fries, mashed plantains and a host of other vegetables.
One advertised dish features an entire golden roasted chicken, buttressed by onions.
'An exquisite taste'
"Although there are some kinds [of chicken] that are very similar, there is no identical one with the perfect combination of different spices," Torres said.
Fans agree. Margarita Cortijo, 52, a criminal lawyer in San Juan who often visits Kissimmee, has frequent cravings for the Puerto Rican franchise's chicken. Her hankering is so strong she has visited the chain's restaurants across the island to quell sporadic urges for her favorite dish: a whole roasted chicken with a side of sweet potatoes.
"It has an exquisite taste," Cortijo said.
If she found a Martin's in Kissimmee, she would buy their chicken. On the spot. It's that good, she said.
"Rrrrico!" Cortijo shouted.
This enthusiasm for roasted chicken is what makes owners of the Puerto Rican franchise worry. In the Kissimmee area, ethnic food means business. From Buenaventura Lakes to Poinciana, small restaurants and groceries sell yucca, fried plantains and other foods that remind residents of home.
And every Puerto Rican family has a recipe for barbecue chicken, Hornedo said.
"The recipe is passed down from generations ago, and we added some things. One family might have more garlic. Another might have more black pepper. Those are the flavors we like," Hornedo said.
New restaurant, new fans
Indeed they do.
On a recent afternoon, Ruth Miranda, 46, of Deltona, stopped at the Kissimmee restaurant for lunch on her way to work. The front and rear doors were thrown open, and a steamy display case filled with yucca, rice and plantains spiced the warm air. A jolly cook offered new visitors free samples, and a crew of burly men chatted in Spanish behind the counter.
Miranda, originally from San Juan, said she has been passing the restaurant for two months, wondering if it is the Martin's BBQ from Puerto Rico. It's excellent food, she said.
Miranda clutched a plastic sack that carried a box filled with her half-chicken and sweet potatoes. She shouted her goodbye.
"You should have Martin's in Deltona!" she said and walked out the door.
Lawsuit Forces Kissimmee, Fla., Restaurant To Change Name
By Willoughby Mariano, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
January 27, 2004
The Orlando Sentinel (KRTBN)
Jan. 27--KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- In Kissimmee's battle of the chickens, the bigger bird won.
In response to a lawsuit complaining that the name of Kissimmee's Martin's Family BBQ was suspiciously similar to that of a renowned Puerto Rico-based barbecue chicken franchise called Martin's BBQ, a judge has issued an injunction forcing the local business to change its name.
For now, the little Kissimmee restaurant at the corner of John Young Parkway and Bryan Street is called Mar Family BBQ. Owners used paint to cover up much of the old name last week.
"It's a new name and a fresh start," Israel Miranda Hornedo, co-owner of the non-chain Martin's, said Monday. Hornedo said the restaurant, which opened in September, was named after his co-owner's dead relative.
The Kissimmee location likely will have a permanent new name by Wednesday, Hornedo said.
Owners of the 40-year-old San Juan chain filed suit against Hornedo in November, worried that people would think Martin's Family BBQ was connected with Martin's BBQ. Many people in Osceola County, where the Puerto Rican population increased 280 percent between 1990 and 2000, are certainly familiar with the Puerto Rican chain.
Martin's BBQ's owners are pleased with Osceola Circuit Judge R. James Stroker's decision, said John Quinones, attorney for the chain.
"If you work hard, you should reap the benefits of hard work, and not have somebody be able to steal the name of your business," said Quinones, who also is a Republican state representative for Kissimmee.
Both the local restaurant and the San Juan chain sell rotisserie-style barbecue chicken, seasoned to the taste of Puerto Rican customers. Both sell yucca, sweet potatoes and other sides that are staples in island cuisine. And both had "Martin" in their names. But only the Puerto Rican chain had registered its trademark, complete with a logo featuring a tough-looking bird and a proud motto: El Original!
In his order, Stroker said the Puerto Rico chain would suffer irreparable harm "in that they have absolutely no control over the standards and quality of service and food" provided by the mom-and-pop Kissimmee eatery.
Regardless, the newly christened Mar Family BBQ has been spreading its wings since the dispute about the name erupted, Hornedo said.
"No matter what the name is, people are still coming," he said.