Restaurant Drama Lawsuit

Tex-Mex Drama: Restaurant dispute leads to a federal lawsuit, kills local chain's expansion

Restaurant dispute leads to a federal lawsuit, kills chain's expansion

El Tiempo Cantina Webster April 2014
El Tiempo won't be opening a Webster location and is suing to have its signage removed.  Photo courtesy of El Tiempo Cantina

It's no trick. Clear Lake won't be getting an El Tiempo Cantina location after all. 

"We are no longer associated with the Webster site," El Tiempo owner Roland Laurenzo says in a statement. "Any mention of it on our website is an oversight of our programmer, and will be corrected ASAP."

El Tiempo had a franchise agreement with the Liquid Gold Hospitality Group to open the Webster location that has been terminated for non-payment. According to Law 360, El Tiempo has filed a federal lawsuit alleging "trademark infringement, trademark dilution, injury to business reputation, false designation of origin and unfair competition" after Liquid Gold refused to remove the El Tiempo signs and other branding from the restaurant. An El Tiempo logo currently appears on the Liquid Gold website. 

"The Webster location was our first and only license ever granted. The licensee stopped paying its bills which were significant, thus defaulting on our agreement," Laurenzo adds. "We have filed a federal lawsuit to get our signage removed, and to resolve many other related matters that are under dispute. There has been no settlement. We are awaiting our day in court to stop the licensee from moving forward without our permission, which is what they want to do, and is something that we cannot allow to happen, for very good reasons."

 "We have filed a federal lawsuit to get our signage removed, and to resolve many other related matters that are under dispute." 

Liquid Gold vigorously disputes El Tiempo's allegations. Attorney Tony Buzbee tells the Chronicle that the disputed payments stem from El Tiempo's inability to complete construction on time or on budget. His clients intend to hold El Tiempo to its agreement, which calls for up to 18 locations.

“El Tiempo is just trying to get out of the binding contract they have with my clients,” Buzbee adds. “My clients intend to honor the agreement and complete the restaurant, and offer the public the same great service, atmosphere and food they have come to expect from El Tiempo.”

The Chronicle, which discovered the Law 360 article, notes that Liquid Gold is also the company that defaulted on its agreement with Scott Tycer to operate Gravitas, which led to the restaurant's closure (although Liquid Gold disputed that contention at the time).

Meanwhile, El Tiempo is still looking for a new location for its Montrose Blvd location that will close early next year. Despite rumors that El Tiempo has its eye on the space currently occupied by Mexican restaurant La Casa del Caballo, a representative tells CultureMap that Laurenzo is "exploring lots of options, and no deal has been made."