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Two months after opening, Laredo's Mexican Restaurant came up against a trademark lawsuit


Scott Cooper January 14th, 2010

Julian Gonzales turned to the most famous English playwright in explaining why he is comfortable changing the name of his well-known restaurant. "As Shakespeare said, 'A rose by any name still smells ...

1-Milagros-174-sc
Julian Gonzales turned to the most famous English playwright in explaining why he is comfortable changing the name of his well-known restaurant. "As Shakespeare said, 'A rose by any name still smells sweet."

Obviously, there is a backstory. Gonzales is the owner of Casa de los Milagros Mexican Restaurant, 5111 N.

Classen, which opened last September. But to Oklahoma City Mexican food lovers, he is probably better known as owner of the former Laredo's Mexican Restaurant. That establishment, located at 936 N.W. 63rd since 1987, closed five years ago.

When the new restaurant opened on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, Gonzales stuck with the familiar name but with a twist, Laredo's Mexican Restaurant and Cantina.

"It was busy from day one because of the anticipation and curiosity of what's going on," he said.

However, the owners of the Mexican restaurant chain El Chico were not thrilled with the new name. The company filed a lawsuit against Gonzales nearly two months after opening, claiming violation of the 1946 federal Trademark Act. Specifically, El Chico did not like the use of the words Laredo and Cantina together in the name of another Mexican restaurant.

In the lawsuit, El Chico, a Texas-based company, claimed it had trademarked "Cantina Laredo" in 1985 and operates 28 restaurants using those words in 11 states, including Oklahoma.
There is a Cantina Laredo at Penn Square Mall.

"Defendant's unauthorized use of El Chico's 'Cantina Laredo' mark "¦ has caused and will likely continue to cause confusion among the public," the lawsuit stated.

Attorneys in Oklahoma City representing El Chico could not reached for comment.

The company also contended that Gonzales' use of the trademark name "dilute(d) the quality of the mark" and damaged El Chico "by tarnishing the good name and reputation of the plaintiff."

Gonzales found that hard to believe.

"We are of the belief that the lawsuit was kind of insulting to the customers, both theirs and ours," he said. "It was insulting their intelligence and their psyche. There is one word that is similar in both names, other than that they are different. Maybe there would have been confusion the first time."

El Chico and the Gonzales family have a long history. Gonzales' uncle opened Oklahoma City's first Mexican restaurant, El Charro, in 1937. Thirty years later, it merged with El Chico, and Gonzales' father managed an El Chico restaurant for 16 years.

The Gonzales family re-established their brand of Mexican restaurants in 1986 with Pepe's in Edmond. They opened Laredo's a year later.

When Chesapeake Energy started buying up property near their complex on N.W. 63rd and Western, Laredo's was bought out.

It is this history that Gonzales said makes him offended by the lawsuit.

"We had been in this market since 1987 under the same name. It's as if we don't have the right to continue to be patronized by our patrons. Whenever there was a change in locations, obviously there was an opportunity to change the name. Why would we do so when our customers have known us for 19 years under the same name?"

It took less than a month for the two sides to reach an agreement, with Gonzales changing the name.

"We went to our attorneys to see what were our options. What we decided was it would not be a wise investment to fight the case. We would rather invest our money elsewhere in other projects. There would be a sizable amount of money, time and energy that would be invested."

The new name, Casa de los Milagros, means house of miracles.

"Some of our customers said, 'Aren't you afraid people are going to go over there and think that it's you, and they will like it and stay over there?' No, we're not afraid of that because we respect everyone's right to go where they want for whatever reason.

"We don't have a contract with our customers that they are forced to eat here. They are here because they chose to be."
 
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