Evanston eatery owner accuses brother, rival restaurateur of copying menu for Highland Park diner

By Jonathan Bilyk | May 7, 2015

The owner of popular Evanston eatery Sarkis Café is again suing her brother, this time to ask a judge to stop her relative and rival restaurateur from essentially copying Sarkis’ menu at his new restaurant, allegedly changing only the names of Sarkis' various sandwiches and other dishes.

On May 6, Sarkis Café owner Marla Cramin filed her complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against her brother, Scott Jaffe, and his wife, Debra, owners and managers of the Uptown Diner in Highland Park.

The Jaffes and Uptown “decided to copy Sarkis’ menu items, down to the exact ingredients and price, including the sandwiches created by Marla’s son and deceased husband, and prepare and serve them in the same method as Sarkis,” the complaint states.

Cramin’s complaint alleges five counts against the Jaffes and Uptown, including consumer fraud and deceptive business practices and violations of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act.

Cramin has asked the judge to issue an injunction preventing the Uptown Diner and the Jaffes from “using the name Sarkis … or any mark that is confusingly similar to the Sarkis name” to advertise its restaurant or food, from “offering for sale the identical or similar food items as Sarkis and from “doing any other act or thing likely to induce the belief that (the Uptown) is in any way connected” with Sarkis or its products.

The complaint also asks the judge to order the Jaffes to post on the Uptown Diner’s website and Facebook page and at the restaurant itself a prominent notice to customers “that is has no affiliation with Sarkis and is not offering for sale any Sarkis food items.”

The complaint further asks the judge to award unspecified damages, including punitive damages, following an accounting of the Uptown’s books, to determine how much profit it may have derived from alleging copying Sarkis’ menu.

Cramin’s suit comes just months after the Jaffes and Cramin settled litigation Cramin brought against her brother and sister-in-law in late 2014, as the Jaffes prepared to open their new restaurant.

For years following the death of Cramin’s husband, Jeff, Scott Jaffe had helped Cramin run Sarkis, a popular breakfast and lunch diner which has operated near New Trier High School in Evanston for almost five decades.

The Cramins bought the restaurant from original owner Sarkis Tashjian in 2000. Jeff Cramin ran the restaurant until he died in May 2002, and Marla Cramin has owned and operated the restaurant since.

Scott Jaffe helped run the restaurant for about 10 years, until his sister fired him in 2012 after discovering her brother had allegedly not paid the restaurant’s taxes for years and had allegedly been “stealing” from the restaurant, not paying vendors and “conducting illegal activities,” according to the complaint.

Last year, the Jaffes moved to open their own restaurant in Highland Park, which they initially had named the Order Up Diner.

However, in November 2014, Cramin sued them, alleging at that time the Jaffes were improperly implying an affiliation with Sarkis.

That litigation was settled with an agreement barring the Jaffes from using Sarkis’ name, or the names of its various sandwiches, including the Loretta, Disaster and Animal.

However, in her new complaint, Cramin alleges her brother has merely changed the names of Sarkis’ menu items at the newly minted Uptown Diner.

She alleges the Jaffes contacted Sarkis’ suppliers to ensure they obtained the correct breads, cheeses and plate sizes to complete the imitation.

“Apart from the names of the food items and a few additional items on Uptown’s menu, Uptown’s menu and Sarkis’ menu are nearly identical,” Cramin’s complaint states.

Cramin is represented in the action by attorney Jeffrey R. Rosenberg, of O’Halloran Kosoff Greitner & Cook, of Northbrook.

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