LINCOLN PARK — The owner of the longtime Evanston staple Sarkis Cafe has served up a lawsuit to a Lincoln Park restaurant it says is unfairly trading on its name.
The owners of the Sarkis Cafe filed suit in December against Sarks in the Park in Lincoln Park, the latest in a food fight that goes back to 2009.
Sarkis Cafe has demanded the city eatery drop the Sark name and take signature items, such as its signature Loretta sandwich, off the menu.
"This is as clear a case of trademark infringement that I have ever seen, not even just in cases that I have done," said Jeffrey Rosenberg, who is representing Sarkis Cafe owner Marla Cramin.
The current owners of Sarks in the Park in Lincoln Park, Erin and Eva Knapp, purchased the business from the original owners this year.
Eva Knapp said they were under the impression that the business was in good standing with Sarkis Cafe when they purchased it from Josh Alomia and Danny Gallagher. Knapp declined further comment and said she was in the process of obtaining an attorney.
The website of the Lincoln Park restaurant at 444 W. Fullerton Parkway states it is not affiliated with the Evanston cafe.
In 2009, Sarkis Cafe sent a letter to Sarks in the Park demanding that it stop trading on its name and menu, including halting the sale of the Loretta sandwiche, a 6-inch french roll with either bacon, ham or sausage topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, peppers, onions and mayonnaise.
The Lincoln Park restaurant did not comply, Rosenberg said.
"Finally, they realized they had no alternative other than to file the lawsuit," Rosenberg said of his client.
The Evanston eatery gained fame among many North Shore high school students who also crave Lorettas at the Lincoln Park location.
Media reports on the opening of Sarks in the Park in Lincoln Park described then-owner Alomia as a "franchisee" of the original Sarkis, but Cramin and her attorney said there was never a deal to allow the franchise.
The lawsuit also claims negative Yelp reviews for Sarks in the Park by users who think the two businesses are related are putting a bad light on the Evanston Sarkis. Many of those negative reviews confuse the two businesses, and assume they are run by the same owner.
The cease and desist letter sent to Sarks in the Park a week after its July 2009 opening states that the two parties had spoken about the opening, but no agreement was reached.
"Your clients were clearly advised that opening of Sarks in the Park, and the use of [its] menu items would involve the use of trade names and trade secrets, and confidential information, to which they had no legal rights," the letter states.
Evanston owner Cramin took over the suburban restaurant after her husband, Jeff Cramin, died in a scuba diving accident in 2009. She had been largely absent from the business until about three months ago, while her brother-in-law Scott Jaffe ran the operations.
Jeff Cramin, who was a longtime patron and lover of Sarkis Cafe, bought the restaurant from the original owner, Sarkis Tashjian, in 2000.
Twenty-four-year-old Winnetka resident Nico Gigiolio, who guesses he's eaten at Sarkis Cafe in Evanston about 400 times and at the Lincoln Park restaurant about 15, said that while the two restaurants have almost the identical staple menu items — Lorettas and hash browns — the old Sarkis Cafe is superior.
"I don't think [Sarks in the Park] tastes better, but I think the new Sarkis has less grease," Gigiolio said. "At the old Sarkis they dump oil all over their hash browns to make them delicious."
Gigiolio said he understands why someone would want to open a Sarkis in Lincoln Park, because it is essentially "following their audience," from the northern suburbs to the Near North Side.