Either Larry Squillace has to change almost every aspect of his burger restaurant on Fairview Avenue in Boise, or he risks a lawsuit from one of the largest and most successful franchises in the Western U.S. In-N-Out Burger, with locations no closer to Boise than Utah, has threatened Squillace with legal action unless he changes everything from his tables and chairs, to his sign, to his menu.
“We packed up our whole family, liquidated our assets and moved to Boise to open Burger Express,” Squillace told Citydesk. “I’ve been flippin’ burgers since I was 13 working at my dad’s burger stand. I had been wanting to do something like this for seven or eight years, but waited for the right location.”
Squillace works behind the counter with two of his five daughters and two sons-in-law. He had every reason to be optimistic until earlier this month.
“My wife lost her battle with cancer on July 6,” said Squillace. “And I got served this letter from In-N-Out the very next day. Are you kidding me?”
You can read the letter here. In-N-Out_complaint.pdf
The letter, from a Salt Lake City law firm representing In-N-Out, accused Squillace of copying the franchise’s color scheme, decor and menu. Indeed, Squillace’s menu is quite basic, not unlike In-N-Out.
“We serve burgers, fries and shakes,” said Squillace. “Yes, it is similar to them, but only because I decided to go back to the type of burger restaurants that so many of us grew up with. I had no desire to copy them, but to go back to our roots.”
Citydesk contacted In-N-Out’s Salt Lake City attorney, Juliette White of Parsons, Behle & Latimer. While she would not take direct questions, she forwarded a statement from In-N-Out’s vice president of Planning and Development, Carl Van Fleet.
“We will virgorously defend our trademarks and trade-dress against any and all copycats and imitators,” Van Fleet’s statement read. “That said, we always try to resolve disputes such as these amicably and we are always willing to work with owners to find reasonable solutions that will prevent customer confusion and protect the In-N-Out brand.”
“They said no thank you,” said Squillace. “I don’t know if they’re after monetary gain or they want me to get out of the business.”
But Van Fleet’s statement said the company was in touch with Squillace.
“We are trying to resolve the matter amicably and formal legal action has not been initiated,” read Van Fleet’s statement.