The owners of Toast Café, one of Lake Norman's most popular restaurants, sent a "cease and desist" letter to the café's former manager after he planned to open a restaurant with a similar name and menu in their former Huntersville location, they said.
Jay Hill, the former Toast manager, filed incorporation papers with the N.C. Secretary of State's office Feb. 23 for The Taste of Huntersville. Toast Café's lease was set to expire five days later.
Toast's owners, Brian Burchill and Robert Maynard, said they closed their Huntersville restaurant Feb. 28 after they were unable to reach a lease agreement with their landlord, Charles Ginyard.
Ginyard is Hill's godfather, both confirmed in interviews.
Hill said he planned "to lease the building for the purpose of opening a new and unrelated restaurant." He said the name similarity was unintentional.
Burchill and Maynard continue to operate a Toast Café on Main Street in Davidson and plan to open another Huntersville location in the planned Norcom building beside Discovery Place Kids at N.C. 115 and Gilead Road, a block from their former eatery.
Maynard said Ginyard never returned his repeated phone calls attempting to work out terms of a new lease.
Ginyard told the Observer that Toast's owners never requested a new lease in writing, as their original agreement required, he said.
"I am not going to be a party to embellishing stories, when the truth will never be told by people like that," Ginyard said.
Burchill and Maynard obtained copies of Taste's planned menu. They had the same color scheme as the Huntersville Toast's did and many of the same menu items, they said..
"The name that you have selected is confusingly similar to 'Toast' and appears to have been selected specifically in order to cause confusion and to deceive customers, consumers and the general public to believe that there is some connection between Toast and your restaurant," attorney Richard Farley of Charlotte wrote to Hill March 16 in behalf of Toast's owners.
Farley's letter also cautioned Hill against using Toast's recipes, which Farley said would violate the N.C. Trade Secrets Protection Act and the N.C. Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Burchill said he decided to release his lawyer's letter to the Observer to clear up misconceptions over why he had to close Toast, even though it had remained packed with patrons since opening in 2005.
Hill later changed the name of his planned eatery to Café 100 and told the Observer last week that his recipes have different ingredients from Toast's. Café 100 is scheduled to open on June 28 as a breakfast and lunch eatery, Hill said.
Hill blamed the original name similarity on his inexperience in owning a restaurant and that the similarity was unintentional.
He also said he told Toast's owners a year and a half ago that he wanted his own restaurant or to buy into theirs, but that they dismissed his overtures. He said he decided, from a business standpoint, not to tell them of his intentions to open Taste.
Later last week, Hill emailed a statement to the Observer that said, in part: "We have been victims of a campaign of harassment beginning with unfounded legal demands and continuing actions and allegations made against us, some of which have been made to the newspaper. There has been an attempt to intimidate us from engaging in a perfectly legal and fully appropriate business enterprise.
"... The previous tenants had the right to renew their lease with the landlord, and did not do so," the statement continued. "In any event, when their lease expired, the landlord was entitled to lease the location to whoever he chose. When the lease expired, the previous tenant vacated the building....
"Our identity, name, menu and recipes are our own or derive from sources entirely separate from the previous tenant," Hill's statement also said. "The reality is we do not want to be associated with the previous group and in every way are establishing a new enterprise with an entirely separate identity.
"We are interested in operating an excellent restaurant, which we have every right to do, and have made every attempt to avoid engaging in a baseless controversy. We have not engaged in any action to harm anyone else's business or rights."