Smothered: The Saga of the Chubby's Empire

Family matriarch Stella Cordova spills the beans on the Chubby's restaurant empire.

But it has spread far beyond the original. Nearly twenty different variations on the Chubby's name are listed in the Colorado Secretary of State's business records, in varying degrees of standing. Belindas Chubbys Inc, Chubby's, Chubby's #2, INC., Chubbys Bar and Grill INC, Chubbys Bubbachinos, Chubby's Burger Drive In, Chubby's Inc, Chubby's Mexican Food, Chubby's Mexican Restaurant LLC, Cordova's Original Chubby's, Cordovas Original Chubbys Burger Drive Inn No 1 INC., Demis's Chubby's Enterprises, INC., Denver's Original Chubby's LLC, El Chubby's, INC., Gotta Get My Chubby's, JINKS C's Chubbys, Original Chubby Mexican Food A Taste Above the Rest.

Many are registered to owners with the last name of Cordova.

"Thirty-eighth and Lipan, that's the only one we sanction," says Danny, noting that he and his grandmother are registered with the Secretary of State under the name The Original Chubby's Inc. "We don't have another at all, period."

Mark Manger
Danny Cordova runs the original Chubby's restaurant on 38th Avenue.
Mark Manger
Danny Cordova runs the original Chubby's restaurant on 38th Avenue.

Nor do the others pay a franchise fee or any other revenues to Stella, he says.

"All those other Chubby's, they give us a bad rep because they say they are related to ours, and people come and complain to us about the poor quality of the product or the high prices at another location," he says. "It hurts our business. What I want is for people to recognize that Stella is the founder of all this. She's the owner, she deserves the credit — and all those other Chubby's that try to knock her out of the business, try to take all the credit for themselves? That's just shameful."

That is why the bottom of Chubby's takeout menus, which Danny printed, read: "NOT AFFILIATED WITH ANY OTHER CHUBBYS." For Danny, the picture is clear.


But for Stella, the story is murkier.

There are three other Chubby's that she "allowed," as she puts it: two owned by her son Tony (one at 9282 West 58th Avenue in Arvada and one in a strip mall at I-70 and York Street) and one owned by her grandson Julian, at 83rd and Washington Street.

Further complicating matters is that neither Stella nor Danny applied for United States Patent and Trademark Office protection until February 2004. And by then, others had beaten them to the punch. El Chubby's, for example, which one of Stella's daughters opened in Aurora and later sold to a familial acquaintance, trademarked the name first and so is legally protected. (The current owner of El Chubby's, Norman Campbell, declines to elaborate on his relationship with Stella's Chubby's.)

"We should have done it earlier," Danny says, but he and Stella had always figured that "people shouldn't be taking advantage of us like that."

Stella and Danny are leaving El Chubby's alone, but they intend to go after the others using trademark laws that could allow them to reclaim the rights to the name.

"If someone beats you to a certain trademark, sometimes that's that," says their attorney, Dan Bonifazi. "But in some instances, when there has been a name commonly used in the public forum, there are ways to un-ring that bell."

For now, Danny and Stella are letting another family member — one who has sliced off his own piece of the Chubby's empire — take the lead in the courtroom.

Julian Cordova has attempted to trademark a version of the Chubby's name and logo. He has also registered the names "Original Chubby's," "Original Chubbys Mexican Food" and "Chubbys" with the Colorado Secretary of State.

And in October, Julian sued his cousin, Leonard Cordova, who runs two Chubbys Bubbachinos restaurants and has franchised the rights to a third. Julian has claimed in Jefferson County District Court that Leonard is illegally using and profiting off of the Chubby's name. "My grandmother wouldn't do it," Julian says. "I'm a lot more aggressive than she is, so I registered the names to try and protect her. Since doing that, I've gone after people who were operating without authorization."

Julian worked in Stella's kitchen growing up. He remembers sleeping on bags of beans in the pantry while his mother, Stella's daughter-in-law, worked the register. "I'll tell you, if our family would have acted like a family, then Chubby's would have been way up there, like Chipotle," he says. "We would have been all over the world."

In 1986, Julian, then nineteen, and his mother and aunt opened their own Chubby's at 89th Avenue and Washington. Later, he moved that property to 73rd Avenue and Federal and has since moved again to 83rd and Washington. "I don't remember if I asked my grandma's permission or not," he admits, "but I know she was cool with it."

And Julian says his grandma is cool with him handling the courtroom issues as well.

"Even though Leonard has Chubbys Bubbachinos and he says that's different, he's doing something that none of us in the family would ever have thought of doing," Julian says. "He's franchising without right; franchising something that he can't franchise. He has no authorization for that. It's a shame, everything that's happening.

"My goal is to shut down Leonard and to stop anyone from selling any franchise rights. I'm trying to do right by my grandma," Julian insists. "She raised me, and I would never hurt her in any way, shape or form. I'm spending my money to make sure things are right for her." If he wins the lawsuit, Julian vows to split whatever money he gets with his grandmother in whatever manner she deems fair.

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