Joe's Stone Crabs Battle Begins

Posted by msch on Oct 1, 2010 11:32:00 AM

Eric Isicoff and Joseph Serota in Frantz v Joe%27s Stone CrabsIn Frantz v. Joe's Stone Crab, plaintiff attorney Eric Isicoff explained to the jury that Steve Sawitz and Jeff Frantz had known each other since second grade, and had been friends for decades, when they decided to go into business together by forming Cache Foods.

Steve's great grandfather had founded the famous restaurant Joe's Stone Crabs nearly a hundred years earlier, and the family still owned it. Steve's mother, Joanne Bass, was majority shareholder, and Steve was the Chief Operating Officer.

Cache Foods was granted a 25-year exclusive nation-wide license, Mr. Isicoff said, to develop supermarket versions of Joe's Stone Crabs menu items for sale to Publix, Costco, and other large-scale retailers. 

Cache's long-term, exclusive, national license to develop and distribute signature products of one of the most famous restaurants in America, one of the highest-grossing multi-million dollar operations in this country, provided Jeff with the opportunity to earn a great deal of money, said Mr. Isicoff.

However, instead of taking signature dishes to market, Cache started with soup. According to Mr. Isicoff, Steve prevented Cache from ever selling a signature Joe's Stone Crab's item.

Said Mr. Isicoff: "At no point in time did either Steve Sawitz or Joe's Stone Crabs ever put forth any legitimate business reasons for pulling the plug on the various products that had been developed, taste-tested, approved, and ready for sale into the market place. Never did they offer a single justifiable reason for withholding that approval...After the key signature products were developed and ready for launch, Joe's and Steve in each and every occasion unreasonably prevented them from seeing the light of day. 

"Joe's simply did not want to share any of the profits, any of the riches of the Joe's brand with anybody -- even with Jeff Frantz, a person whom Steve had grown up with and known for many years -- a person who had invested over $300,000 of his own money in, and also who'd worked in this business for three solid years. 

"Steve's and Joe's refusal to let any signature products come to market led to the death of Cache foods at the end of 2006...Mr. Sawitz and Joe's Stone Crab could keep it all in the family by simply cutting Mr. Frantz out of the picture, which is exactly what they did."

On behalf of Mr. Sawitz and Joe's Stone Crab's, Weiss Serota Helfman's Joe Serota told the jury that the story recounted by Mr. Isicoff:

"...just didn't happen. It's not the truth, and it's not what the evidence will show...What happened is not complicated...Two old friends go into a business together -- a business that neither of them knew virtually anything about. They made some bad choices, together. They ran out of money...and neither of them wanted to put in any more money, and they couldn't find anyone else to invest in the business. That's it, ladies and gentlemen. That's the story.

"...But Jeff Frantz refuses to accept that the business did not succeed...The fact is, while both of them were successful guys, and are successful guys, neither of them knew anything about developing food products and selling them in supermarkets. This lack of experience, the evidence will show, was a major factor in the will see," Mr. Serota concluded, "that they will not be able to present any logical reason why Steve would put all this money in, into a business that he intentionally tried to ruin."  

Watch CVN's webcast of Frantz v. Joe's Stone Crab.

Topics: Commercial Law