At odds are Bud and Barbara Elder, owners of Custino’s Italian Kitchen; and Angelo and Philip Custino, owners of Custino’s Restaurant and Bar.
In August, District Judge Lisa Davis rejected an injunction filed by the Custinos seeking to stop the Elders from using the Custino name for their restaurant. The four originally were partners in the start-up at 2724 W. Britton. In response, the Elders claimed that the Custino's had failed to show up on June 26, told employees not to show up for work, shut down utility accounts and withdrew money from the corporate checking account.
Both sides agree that the Elders were the eatery’s sole financers.
Bud Elder said he entered into the relationship in good faith, but after six weeks, the Custinos just walked away.
“The next time we heard from them was when we received notice we were being sued,” Elder said.
The restaurant was an attempt to resurrect the Custino’s Italian Kitchen of the 1990s, made famous locally by its “Stuffa You Face” jingle. The Custinos and Elders worked together on that concept until the Custinos left OKC; they returned last year.
Elder, who described Philip as his best friend during the 1990s, said the Custinos wanted to renew the friendship and business partnership.
Now that friendship is surely over, and both parties are adamant about using the Custino name.
On Nov. 9, Angelo Custino and his father, Philip, opened Custino’s Restaurant and Bar at 7801 N. May, around the corner from the other restaurant — a violation of Davis’ ruling, according to Bill Zuhdi, attorney for the Elders.
“The judge said neither party could harm the other in conducting business,” Zuhdi said. “It’s our contention that the proximity of the new location, combined with the confusion created by the use of the same name, will seriously harm the Elders’ business.”
The name Custino’s Italian Kitchen was reserved by Bud Elder several years ago and appropriate papers were filed with the Secretary of State, said Zuhdi.
The Elders also claim that Custino is not Philip Custino’s actual name. They said his legal name is Anthony Philip Caliendo, and that he was sentenced to federal prison in 1988 for his part in a prostitution ring.
Angelo Custino called the accusation a lie.
“My father was born Philip Angelo Custino,” he said. “I have the birth certificate. I’ll show it to anyone who asks. I don’t want the same thing happening to my father as happened to President Obama.”
Elder said he wouldn’t have an issue with the new restaurant if he thought it would serve OKC well.
“If I thought it might help the Custino’s brand, I could support it,” he said, “but personal knowledge and experience tells me it will be a disaster.”