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Family Business Dispute About Alleged Trade Secrets of a Long Time Evanston Diner Erupts Into a Lawsuit — Our Chicago Family Business Dispute Lawyers Handle Many Types of Disputes for Closely Held Businesses

Familial relationships can be tough. When you combine them with the added stress of trying to run a family business together, sometimes it can be a recipe for disaster. Marla Cramin, the owner of Sarkis Cafe, a popular diner that has been business in Evanston for many years, has filed a second lawsuit against her brother, who also happens to be the former manager she had hired to run Sarkis Cafe for many years.

Cramin and her husband, Jeff Cramin, bought the diner in 2000 from its original owner, Sarkis Tashjian. When Jeff died in an accident in 2002, Marla hired her brother, Scott Jaffe, to manage the diner for her. Cramin fired her brother in 2012 and he went on to start his own restaurant in Highland Park, which just opened in April. It was originally called the Order Up Diner, but after he settled a lawsuit with his sister, he changed the name to the Uptown Diner.

Sarkis Cafe is known for its unique sandwiches, including the “Loretta,” the “Animal” and the “Disaster.” According to the most recent lawsuit between the siblings, Jaffe is using a menu that’s allegedly almost identical to the menu of the Sarkis Cafe. He is according to the suit, allegedly using different names, but the ingredients, prices, and placing of the items on the menu are all allegedly the same.

The lawsuit alleges, Jaffe is even ordering the same bread from Gonnella Baking Company that Cramin uses on her sandwiches. He also allegedly contacted another vendor Cramin uses to ask about “the size of the plates” and the “type of cheese” used in the Sarkis Cafe.

The lawsuit further alleges Jaffe has been misrepresenting to his customers an affiliation with Sarkis Cafe. Cramin maintains there is no relationship between the two diners and she doesn’t want anyone to get the mistaken impression that her brother’s diner is affiliated with her own.

Because Jaffe ran the Sarkis Cafe for a decade, he allegedly is privy to what his sister claims is sensitive confidential information regarding the running of the restaurant, including the details of the menu and the vendors that supply the ingredients. By opening his own restaurant with a nearly identical menu and contacting Sarkis’s vendors, Jaffe is allegedly taking unfair advantage of the trade secrets he was privy to when he worked for his sister. The lawsuit is alleging violations of state law, deceptive trade practices, trade secrets, and violating the terms of a previous legal settlement.  However, if information is common knowledge and not kept under lock and key and is not actually secret then it is not treated as a trade secret such as the secret formula for Coked or Kentucky Fried Chicken’s secret recipe.  Since anyone is free to look at Sarkis menu or the buy products from its vendors such as Gonella it is hard to imagine that the information being used is actually secret or confidential but that will be a matter to be proven in the lawsuit.

The recent lawsuit was filed against Scott Jaffe, his wife, Debra Jaffe, and the Uptown Diner LLC. It is asking the court to file an injunction to prevent the Jaffes from serving the same food as the Sarkis Cafe, and from using the Sarkis name or mark. To clarify matters, the lawsuit is also asking Uptown Diner to post on its website and its Facebook page that it has no affiliation with Sarkis and is not offering any of the foods found on Sarkis’s menu.

Jaffe said he has not yet been served with the lawsuit, but he denies all of the allegations contained in the lawsuit. He maintains his menu is different from that of the Sarkis Cafe, including the names and ingredients of the items being offered.

The following lists some of the key factors to consider as you face business dispute or shareholder dispute litigation:

Business Litigation Goals. It is important to consider what you hope to accomplish through business dispute litigation. It is important to consider the ideal end result as you evaluate your options and litigation strategies. Unfortunately, the ideal end results often gets lost in the highly-charged emotions of litigation so it is important to set out your litigation goals at the outset and remind yourself of your optimal resolution through the partnership litigation process. Understanding your goals will also help you evaluate potential settlement offers.

Litigation Strategy. It is important to know where you want to go so that you can then develop a litigation strategy, a legal map of sorts, on how you plan to reach your end goal. A business litigation strategy should be developed in close collaboration with your business litigation lawyer. At DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle, our knowledgeable Illinois business lawsuit attorneys can help you analyze complex legal issues, such as potential violations of fiduciary duties, alleged breach of contracts, available accounting information, and civil procedure requirements, in order to develop the appropriate business litigation game plan.

Expense of Litigation. There are several factors that affect the cost of business litigation, but you will want to consider the potential legal expenses associated with partnership litigation so that you can evaluate your business litigation options.

At DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle, our Chicago business dispute lawyers with offices near Oak Brook and Naperville focus on providing clients with sound business law advice and protecting our clients’ interests when they find themselves facing business litigation. (877) 990-4990 or (630) 333-0000.