Saul Sierra was a nineteen-year-old high-school drop-out and dishwasher when he opened the first Mi Cocina in northwest Denver. Three years later, he sold that location and opened Mi Cocina Mexican Restaurant in Littleton; he added Mi Cocina Express in 2007. And last March, 25 years after Sierra registered Mi Cocina name with the Colorado Secretary of State, he got slapped with a federal lawsuit filed by Mi Cocina Ltd., a Texas limited partnership that owns white-tablecloth outfits around Dallas that go by the name Mi Cocina.
According to that complaint: "Plaintiff is, and at all times mentioned in this complaint, has been, engaged in the business of providing Mexican food restaurant services, presently including fifteen restaurants doing business under the name Mi Cocina that have achieved enormous success based on the quality of its food and service. Plaintiff has expended large sums of money, resources and time to establish the valuable business and good will in the use of its 'Mi Cocina' trademark."
This wasn't the first suit the Texas Mi Cocina company had filed against a much smaller operation using some variation on "Cocina," and other restaurants have buckled to the pressure and just changed their names.
But Sierra had the support of his landlord, Douglas Carlson, and they were armed with the fact that the Texas company had trademarked the name five years after Sierra registered it. So after months of legal skirmishes and mediation, they fought the the Texans to a draw, in a just-announced settlement: Sierra gets continue to use his the Mi Cocina name in a limited area in Colorado. That territory is enough for him, and he'll celebrate with a Customer Appreciation Night that features a buy-one-get-two free deal on his combination plates from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, at both locations.
As for the Texans, the settlement allows them to expand into the rest of Colorado -- and they've indicated their intention to do so. Fair warning, Colorado: The Texas Mi Cocina chain was included on "The 10 Most Overrated Dallas Restaurants" list compiled in 2009 by Westword's partner paper, the Dallas Observer.
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