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Thai'd up in court

Dixon restaurateurs both lay claim to the name Touch of Thai

Touch of Thai in Dixon.
Touch of Thai in Dixon.

DIXON – Former allies, now adversaries, are battling it out in Lee County Court over who has the right to use the Touch of Thai name, and a logo that goes along with it.

Trirong Khuntangta and his LLC, Touch of Thai Properties, and S&R Siam Corp., d/b/a Touch of Thai, owned by the Yindeeroop family – including Udi Yindeeroop and her sons John, Job and Jack, and Jack’s wife, Aim Yindeeroop – are suing each other over who owns the name of the popular Thai restaurants and the businesses, current and future, associated with them.

Trirong, who appeared in court Friday with his fiancee, Pavida Pratumrat, is represented by Dixon attorney Doug Lee; the Yindeeroops by attorneys David Rice and Louis F. Pignatelli of Rock Falls. Judge Ronald Jacobson is hearing the case, and Friday was the first day of a hearing in which each side is seeking an injunction against the other.

“Essentially what is going on here is the plaintiff is trying to steal the name Touch of Thai,” Lee said.

Not so, say the Yindeeroops, who want to use the name for their catering, carryout and delivery services, and for a food truck service they intend to establish.

They say the Touch of Thai name has value because of the reputation and goodwill they created: They ran the restaurant, paid for renovations and equipment, paid the bills, paid the taxes, paid for advertising, created the menus using their own recipes, donated to community fundraisers.

Trirong was their landlord only, and they maintain that, by not actually using the Touch of Thai name for business purposes, he legally has abandoned it. ​

Absolutely not, says Trirong, who points to language in the second and subsequent leases with the Yindeeroops.

Specifically, Article 3 in the second lease reads: “Tenants agree to use the leased premises only for office/retail space only for the purpose of operating a restaurant, and shall be entitled to use the name ‘Touch of Thai Restaurant’ for the duration of this leasing agreement.”

In other words, the name stays with the building.

That language, however, was missing in the first lease, when Article 3 said only that “Tenant agrees to use the leased premises only for office/retail space for Thai restaurant.”

Friday, Aim Yindeeroop testified that she did not realize the restriction on the use of the name was in the lease until Trirong countersued them. Udi Yindeeroop testified that she also did not realize that clause was in the lease, which she signed.

“We didn’t look it over,” Udi said through Job, who acted as the court’s interpreter.

“We trusted him. We speak the same language. We come from the same country. He said sign it, we signed it.”

The battle is heating up as both businesses expand. Both want to capitalize on the reputation the popular eatery has developed. If both use the name, they say, it will confuse customers, create unfair competition and suggest the businesses are related, which they vehemently are not.

So, how did they get here?

Trirong opened Touch of Thai at 221 W. First in September 2003, using the same font, lettering style and logo as exists today.

In April 2007, he leased the space to Udi and her husband, Somkit, or Sam, for 3 years.

On April 16 that year, the Yindeeroops established S&R Siam Corp., and that Aug. 17, applied to adopt an assumed name to do business as Touch of Thai Restaurant, a status they have maintained since.

In 2010, Trirong registered Touch of Thai as an assumed business name in Lee County. In March 2010, the second 3-year lease was signed, but in 2011, he had the Yindeeroops sign a 5-year lease that also contained the same language.

He cannot, however, find a signed copy of that lease; he included an unsigned copy in the exhibits accompanying his countersuit.

While leasing the space, at Trirong’s request, the Yindeeroops used the name Touch of Thai.

In an SVM story about his plans to open in Rock Falls, published in May 2014, Trirong said his original plan called for the Yindeeroops to also run his new restaurant, but the family decided to withdraw from the project.

“They backed out a couple months ago,” he said at the time. “But I own the restaurant and the Touch of Thai name.”

On Sept. 30, 2015, he registered Touch of Thai II as an assumed business in Whiteside County. On June 6, 2016, Trirong opened Touch of Thai II at 102 W. Second St. in Rock Falls, with Pratumrat.

Before he did so, he asked the Yindeeroops if they wanted to run it. They declined.

He plans to reopen the Dixon restaurant at 221 W. First in early January, also under the name Touch of Thai. On Aug. 4, he posted a sign there that says “Touch of Thai returns.”

The family reopened their restaurant across the street at 214 W. First on July 31. They changed the name to Somkit to honor their Sam, who died Feb. 19, 2016.

In advertisements, they refer to Somkit as “formerly known as Touch of Thai,” but the logo and the Touch of Thai name still is on gift cards, the menu, and the boxes they use when delivering hot lunches.

As a result of its continuous use, S&R “owns valid and subsisting common law rights” to the name and the logo, the Yindeeroop suit says.

Friday, Jacobson agreed to hear both motions at the same time; the Yindeeroops presented their side, and Trirong will present his on Jan. 26.

That won’t mark the end of the case, however – both sides are merely seeking an injunction, which would maintain the status quo while the case is litigated. What that status quo will be – who gets to use the name for the time being – is up to the judge.

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