No Room for Longhorns in Corpus Christi


     CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - Owners of a local chain of Longhorn steakhouses have gone to Federal Court over its bigger competitor's "coming soon" advertisements that bring frustrated customers to its doors, looking for a "lobster baked potato" they do not offer.
     The Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant and Longhorn Steak & Ale Plaintiffs say their roots in Corpus Christi date back to 1989, when the first Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant opened its doors.
     The chain was founded by two Greek families who had earned a reputation for "operating good quality restaurants that provided good food in a nice atmosphere at a reasonable price," through successful Hasty Tasty restaurants that opened in 1946.
     Two Longhorn Steak & Ale restaurants joined the Corpus Christi flagship over the next five years, according to the complaint, and success has since brought the chain numerous "Best of the Best Readers' Choice" awards from the Corpus Christi Caller Times.
     But ads for a competing LongHorn Steakhouse run by Darden Restaurants has allegedly caused the Greek families' customers to start making strange requests.
     "Approximately two years ago, the defendants started running television ads in the Corpus Christi area for the Longhorn Steakhouse," according to the complaint. "As soon as those ads started appearing, actual confusion occurred by the public."
     "For example, the defendants would advertise a 'lobster baked potato' by the Longhorn Steakhouse, but defendants did not have any restaurants in Corpus Christi.
     "Members of the public would come into plaintiffs' restaurants, operating under the names 'Longhorn Steak & Ale' and 'Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant' and ask for the lobster baked potato.
     "The customers would then get aggravated because the advertised item being offered by defendants was not available in plaintiffs' restaurants."
     Darden also began selling gift cards for its restaurant, but customers bring them to the restaurants operated by the Greek families and demand that they be honored, according to the complaint.
     To keep customers happy, the Greek-owned Longhorn says it has begun honoring its competitor's discount coupons.
     Darden tells visitors to its website that its LongHorn Restaurant is "coming soon" to a Corpus Christi mall.
     The Greek-owned companies want to enjoin Rare Hospitality from using the Longhorn Steakhouse logo, mark, "or any other names or marks confusingly similar thereto in the Corpus Christi, Texas area."
     Darden registered its LongHorn mark for "restaurant services" in August 2009, according to the complaint, which says the competitors' use of the logo and mark dates back to 1981.
     The federal complaint seek damages for false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, unfair competition and trademark dilution under state law.
     Darden Restaurants and its subsidiary Darden Concepts are named as defendants alongside Rare Hospitality Management, the original LongHorn owner that Darden acquired in 2007. In addition to more than 350 LongHorn steakhouses nationwide, Darden owns several other chains including Olive Garden.