Torchy's Tacos' Suit Against Texas Taco Co. Alleges Theft of Food-Prep Bible

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Photos from Torchy's Facebook and Texas Taco Co. Facebook
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Back in August, we reported on the anticipated opening of a new taco joint in Houston called Texas Taco Co. The Friendswood location was the third store set to open in Texas -- the other two are in Baytown and Magnolia -- and though it sounded like a delicious addition to the Houston-area restaurant scene, we and Eater noticed a striking similarity between the menu at Texas Taco Co. and the menu of another much-lauded Texas taco spot: Torchy's Tacos.

Apparently we weren't the only ones.

As soon as the first Texas Taco Co. opened, in Baytown, diners started sending messages to Torchy's asking, essentially, what's up with your new restaurant? People assumed, because of similarities between the two menus, that Texas Taco Co. was somehow affiliated with Torchy's.

For example, the Torchy's menu offers a breakfast taco called the "Monk Special," which is described as "'Hold the potatoes.' Eggs, bacon, green chilies & cheese. Served on your choice of tortilla."

Texas Taco Co. offers an "Alamo Special," described as "'Hold the potatoes.' Eggs, bacon, green chilies & cheese. Served on your choice of tortilla."

You see the issue?

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Photo from Torchy's Tacos
The Torchy's location at which the funny business supposedly went down.
Torchy's saw an issue, too, especially when people there remembered that back in March a former employee, Mario DeJesus, had allegedly stolen the Taco Bible, "a proprietary start-to-finish recipe and food process guide for all Torchy's food products." As a condition of employment with Torchy's, workers must sign papers agreeing not to disclose the confidential inner workings of Torchy's Tacos, including recipes.

DeJesus initially denied he had stolen the Taco Bible, but according to his testimony, Forrest Harrell, an employee at Torchy's, convinced DeJesus to admit he had taken the document and to return it. DeJesus told Harrell he would leave the book on top of a car in the parking lot of an Exxon station just south of the restaurant. Harrell was able to regain possession of the book, and DeJesus was fired.

Lawyers for the plaintiff discovered that shortly after he left Torchy's, DeJesus began working for Texas Taco Co., driving 40 miles from his home every day to do so. Lawyers for Torchy's argue that DeJesus wouldn't be making an 80-mile round-trip drive for work every day for his $10-an-hour paycheck. They believe he was employed by Texas Taco Co. prior to being fired and that he received a substantial amount of money from the owners of Texas Taco Co., ARK Dudes, in exchange for the proprietary information contained in the Taco Bible.

On June 7, 2013, Success Foods Management Group, the owners of Torchy's Tacos, filed a temporary restraining order against DeJesus. The court decided that "there is a substantial likelihood that Defendant Mario DeJesus has engaged in wrongful conduct, including misappropriation of trade secrets and breaches of duties owed to Torchy's, related to competitive activities and Torchy's confidential information that DeJesus is in a position to use on behalf of a competing business." The court went on to note that DeJesus's continuing actions could cause "immediate and irreparable injury" to Torchy's business.

DeJesus claims that he had not been in contact with Texas Taco Co. prior to being fired from Torchy's. He says that he saw the Texas Taco Co. restaurant in Baytown and decided to apply for a job there. Based on his testimony, he does not seem to think there's anything suspicious about driving 40 miles to get to a job that pays $10 an hour and isn't always a full-time position.

Brittany Platt, marketing director for Torchy's Tacos, says Texas Taco is in the wrong.

"Honestly, we'd like for them to stop," Platt said when asked what the company hoped to achieve with the lawsuit. "I think we agree it's a pretty poor business practice, and we're trying to rally the troops and clear the air. People think that we're affiliated, and we're not."

We were also able to get in touch with the lawyer for Texas Taco Co., Matthew Hoeg, who said that the claims being made by Torchy's are false.

"There's this allegation that there's a videotape of my client supposedly stealing the Taco Bible, but there's no such tape, because it didn't happen," Hoeg says. "Their story is that they misplaced or lost it." Hoeg also says Torchy's claims someone at the company lost the confidentiality agreement that his client supposedly signed.

As for the menu overlaps?

"Did my guys like the notion of what they do?" Hoeg asks. "Sure. Were they trying to imitate the things that succeed there? Sure. The menu isn't secret. They don't own that concept."

Hoeg is vehement that his clients, DeJesus and ARK Dudes, have done nothing wrong and that Torchy's has been very reluctant to hand over incriminating information, including the surveillance tape and the confidentiality agreement.

"We don't have and have never had their stupid Taco Bible," Hoeg says. "Nor do we want it."

The new Texas Taco Co. that was supposed to open in Friendswood appears to still be closed, and the phone number listed for that location is not working.

Location Info

Texas Taco Co.

4609 Garth Road, Baytown, TX

Category: Restaurant

Torchy's Tacos

2411 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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18 comments
elaine_underhill
elaine_underhill

I saw the Texas Taco Co. in the place that used to be The Fish Place, another crappy chain restaurant, and I'm glad that I found out about this before we went there. These people aren't copycats, they are thieves. Dirty rotten thieves. They won't get our business based on that alone. My daughter told me about this as she was driving up into the parking lot of a Torchy's in Austin. Says the place is jam packed on Saturday at noon. I'm pretty sure that the people of Austin know good food when they find it. I'm going to hold out for the real Torchy's. Thanks for the heads up HP. 

cowboy_montanez
cowboy_montanez

Torchys tacos suck.. Why would anyone want to copy their menu..

cowboy_montanez
cowboy_montanez

Torchys tacos suck why would anyone want to copy that weak ass menu

ierejay
ierejay

These Texas Taco people are scumbags. They can't even be bothered to re-arrange the words in the descriptions of the recipies they stole? I hope they get sued to the poorhouse.

Jim Costello
Jim Costello

Lawyers love this shit. The rest of us just want a taco.

Dago Enriquez
Dago Enriquez

Fake ass Tacos,if u want real Tacos go to a Taqueria!

James Hoang
James Hoang

This is so stupid. Food is one of the most mimic/replicated trends. You know how many food trucks could be sued by restaurants and other food truck owners? Their isn't anything original about food or tacos of all things! I doubt torchy patented their tacos. Frivolous case! Throw it out.

Anse
Anse

It's so lazy. Recipes can't be copyrighted, right? So why not go the extra step of writing an original menu?

Jack_Around
Jack_Around

They're McDonald's, I'm McDowell's. They have the golden arches, I have the golden arcs...

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

There's a fairly clear line between imitation and plagiarism.  Texas Taco Company is way over that line.  

smkyle
smkyle

I want Torchy's now....

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

I was reluctant to try Torchy's because of some negative reviews, particularly the ones that pointed out the use of grocery store flour tortillas.  But after trying Torchy's I became a fan.  Love the Diablo sauce.  My favorite taco is the Brushfire.

As for Texas Taco Company, I get the idea of borrowing concepts that work. But what they're doing is not borrowing, it's stealing.  Whether you like Torchy's or not, I think you'd have to agree that the folks at Texas Taco are assholes.

a_lomas5
a_lomas5

My sister works there and if she's a scumbag so are you...question is how many ways can u make a taco using basically the same stuff...not like they have gold in it or any different ingredient a that I don't use at home...get a life and talk abt real issues like our president

Thanks in advance LEAH

crzycicada
crzycicada

Any reference to Coming to America is a welcomed reference.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@smkyle I WAS THINKING THAT THE ENTIRE TIME I WAS WRITING THIS.

soprano245
soprano245

@a_lomas5  haha you really think the same exact verbage verbatim in the exact same order was just a coincidence? Did you ever go to college? We studied plagiarism, and what you see above is exactly that, and it doesn't take much to see it. Your sister is probably a low level worker who had no hand in the thievery, so I'm not sure why you're taking it so personally

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