Lawsuit alleges stolen "Taco Bible" led to competitor's ripoff recipes

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by Eric Sandler / CultureMap Houston

khou.com

Posted on October 23, 2013 at 6:59 PM

HOUSTON -- The Dirty Sanchez. Mr. Pink. The Democrat. The Republican. Fans of Austin-based Torchy's Tacos will immediately recognize these as some of the creative names the company has developed for its signature dishes. Now, a lawsuit alleges that a competitor has stolen the company's secrets and opened a new restaurant that mimics Torchy's distinctive items.

The alleged culprit? Texas Taco Company, a three-outlet chain that started in Baytown and has locations in Friendswood and Magnolia. 

Chefs can't trademark recipes, but do style and presentation make a recipe so unique that it's a trade secret?  That's one of the issues at the heart of the lawsuit.

Torchy's marketing director Brittany Platt says that the company became aware of Texas Taco Company when Torchy's customers started tagging images from Texas Taco on Instagram. "There's clear consumer confusion" about the relationship between Torchy's and Texas Taco, Platt tells CultureMap. She says the suit's purpose is to clarify that the two aren't connected. 

In a pleading filed in Harris County, Torchy's alleges that Texas Taco uses recipes, menu designs and presentation styles that are "a blatant Torchy's rip-off." 

In a pleading filed in Harris County, Torchy's alleges that Texas Taco uses recipes, menu designs and presentation styles that are "a blatant Torchy's rip-off." Furthermore, the suit claims that former Torchy's cook Mario DeJesus stole the Torchy's "Taco Bible" that contains all its recipes and supplied it to Texas Taco. The suit seeks both to stop Texas Taco Company from using Torchy's recipes and, of course, for monetary damages for using them in the first place.

According to Torchy's, DeJesus signed a non-disclosure agreement when he worked there that prohibits him from revealing any of the company's recipes to competitors. Furthermore, Torchy's uses a variety of tactics, including video surveillance, to prevent employees from ever removing the Taco Bible. When a manager saw that DeJesus had done so, the company fired him immediately after he returned it.  

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