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'It's my heart and my soul' – Ruling on ownership of Touch of Thai name nears

DIXON – A judge is expected to rule soon on whether the originator of the Touch of Thai brand will be allowed to retain the use of the name into which he says he has poured "my heart and my soul."

Trirong Khuntangta, 50, of Dixon, is being sued by, and is countersuing, the Yindeeroop family – Udi Yindeeroop and her sons John, Job and Jack, and Jack's wife, Aim Yindeeroop – doing business as S&R Siam Corp.

The Yindeeroops operated the restaurant at 221 W. First St. – which Trirong started in 2003 – from 2007 to 2017, leasing the building and, he argues, the name.

Last year, they decided not to renew their lease, and on July 31 opened a restaurant across the street at 214 W. First St., called Somkit.

They plan to also run a food truck, carryout and catering business in Rock Falls under the name Touch of Thai, which they say now belongs to them after a decade of building up its reputation and goodwill in the community.

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.

By turning the restaurant over to them a decade ago and not using the name for business purposes, Trirong essentially abandoned it, they argue.

Trirong's wife, Pavida "Jan" Pratumrat, opened Touch of Thai II in Rock Falls on June 6, 2016, however, and Trirong wants to reopen Touch of Thai in the Dixon building. He's ready to do so now, but cannot until the ownership of the name is settled, he said.

Both sides agree that having two Touch of Thai entities will cause confusion among their customers, create unfair competition and suggest the businesses are related, which they vehemently say are not.

In any event, Touch of Thai is more than a restaurant, Trirong argues. His dream since arriving in the United States in 1992 always has been to bring Thai culture and tradition to the Sauk Valley, and his Muy Thai kickboxing school above the restaurant and Traditional Wellness Center across the street at 216 W. First both fall under his Touch of Thai umbrella.

Not only has he not abandoned the name, or the logo he created to go along with it, but he has in fact made his ownership of it clear in the leases the Yindeeroops have signed, he argues.

Specifically, it 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 addition, when they took over operations and wanted to change the name of the restaurant, he insisted that they continue to use Touch of Thai, Trirong said.

"I'm happy they have their own business. They're a good, hard-working family. I'm happy for them," he said of the Yindeeroops.

But Touch of Thai "is not just the food. That's my heart and my soul there."

The Yindeeroops, who are represented by attorneys David Rice and Louis F. Pignatelli of Rock Falls, testified to their side of the issue on Dec. 8.

Trirong, who is represented by Dixon attorney Doug Lee, and his witnesses testified Jan. 26.

"This case started," Lee said in his closing argument, "when Trirong put a sign in the window of his building that said he was going to reopen as Touch of Thai."

The Yindeeroops already had opened across the street under a different name, Somkit. "Why open under one name and operate under another?" Lee asked. "'We're still using the name, so Trirong can't use it anymore?' It's at least suspect.

"There simply is no credible argument that Trirong has abandoned the Touch of Thai name."

Lee County Court Judge Ron Jacobson, who was off part of this month on vacation, set a hearing for March 6 but said he likely will rule "well before then."

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