A partnership to start and manage a restaurant business in the suburbs turned rotten this summer, and now two former partners are suing for trademark infringement and at least $18,000 in wages.
Edwin Rios and Vivian Rios sued Jacqueline Herrerias, Say Beignet Cafe & Wine Bar LLC, Hems Group and Hems Group LLC Sept. 11 in Chicago's federal court through their attorney, Carlton Odim of Odim Law Offices.
The Rioses claim they formed a partnership called Hems Group with Herrerias and two other individuals in 2012. The Hems Group, the suit states, raised $3.3 million in investments to start a restaurant called Radio Rhumba in 2012, but it failed to materialize, as did two other similar projects the group pursued the following year.
Eventually, the group decided to develop and open "Say Beignet Coffee & Wine Bar" in Bolingbrook. A beignet is a fried pastry covered with powdered sugar, a treat made popular by New Orleans cuisine.
Part of the agreement for the establishment included the Hems Group, Say Beignet Cafe & Wine Bar and Hems Group LLC giving the Rioses “sole discretion in developing the standards for brand compliance and related matters at Say Beignet Coffee & Wine Bar,” the suit alleges.
The Rioses claim the defendants also agreed to pay them a licensing fee for their trademark "Say Beignet."
The partners, including the plaintiffs, had Herrerias file papers to organize Say Beignet Investments LLC and Hems Group LLC through the Illinois Secretary of State. Herrerias was to be named as the sole manager and member of both companies at first and was then to name all the partners on the filings once the restaurant opened, which she never did, according to the Rioses' suit.
Shortly after the establishment opened in May, Herrerias staged what the plaintiffs present as a coup. Herrerias allegedly changed the locks on the restaurant, seized all of the Hems Group LLC’s assets and then proceeded to fire the Rioses.
Herrerias still owes Vivian Rios $15,300 in wages and compensation for her time with the restaurant, and Edwin Rios $3,300 in wages and compensation for his time with the restaurant, according to the suit, which is seeking those amounts and more.
Since their firings, the Rioses contend they have continued to develop their Say Beignet license and trademark. They claim Say Beignet Coffee & Wine Bar has received negative reviews because Herrerias failed to implement their brand standards, which is hurting their trademark.
In August, the plaintiffs gave the defendants a cease and desist order regarding the Say Beignet trademark. The defendants have allegedly ignored it.
Edwin and Vivian Rios are asking Chicago's federal court for an injunction to force the defendants to stop using the Say Beignet Cafe Coffee & Wine Bar name or anything else similar to their trademark. They further asked for any profits the defendants made through the use of the trademark to be directed to them.
To ensure there is no confusion about who owns the Say Beignet trademark, the Rioses want control of any phone numbers, internet domains and email addresses currently used by the defendants in conjunction with the restaurant.
An Internet search shows there are two websites that appear to be related to the partnership at the crux of the suit: saybeignet.com, which looks like it is run by the Rioses as they are listed in the "About Us" section and saybeignetbolingbrook.com, which makes no mention of the Rioses.
In their suit, the Rioses are seeking monetary compensation from the defendants for the alleged misuse of their trademark.
They also want the Hems Group partnership to be dissolved and for the assets controlled by the partnership, including Say Beignet Cafe Coffee & Wine Bar and Hems Group LLC, to be divided.
The Rioses further want Herrerias pay the Hems Group partnership for her alleged breach of fiduciary responsibilities. They claim she didn’t keep an accurate record of investments they secured for the restaurant, and gave out profits of the restaurant without their authorization.