Hot dog maker Red Hot Chicago scored a victory in "the great Chicago wienie wars," in which Vienna Beef sued Red Hot alleging it either stole the Vienna hot dog recipe or was falsely claiming its dogs were the same thing.
A judge this week denied a request for a temporary restraining order against Red Hot Chicago, saying Vienna didn't show how it would be irreparably harmed by waiting for the case to play out in court. The judge also said Vienna's chances were not good for succeeding on its claims of false advertising, trademark infringement and violation of trade secrets.
Vienna Beef, maker of the popular hot dogs, sued Scott D. Ladany, grandson of one of the Chicago-based company's founders. He is no longer affiliated with Vienna. The suit, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Chicago, claims Ladany's company, Red Hot Chicago, either ripped off Vienna's 118-year-old recipe or is lying by telling customers that its hot dogs are the real thing.
Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said in a ruling that Red Hot Chicago has used mostly the same advertising for years, and there was no urgency to warrant a restraining order, which would require Red Hot to take the "drastic" action of immediately changing its advertising and promotional material.
"The recent allegations made by Vienna Beef in this lawsuit and to the press are completely unfounded, and we are pleased that the court agreed in ruling that Vienna is unlikely to succeed on its claims," said Ladany in a statement. "I'm proud of my family background and am anxious for our company to now go back to focusing on what we do best -- offering delicious Chicago-Style hot dogs."
Jim Bodman, the CEO of Vienna Beef who previously dubbed the lawsuit "the great Chicago wienie wars," said it's still early in the game. "While we're disappointed, this is [like] the first pitch in a baseball game, and it was a close call," he said. "And we're looking forward to the next pitch."
Ladany, grandson of Vienna founder Samuel Ladany, was once employed by Vienna as a sales manager but has had no affiliation with the company since 1983, when he sold his 10 percent stake, according to the suit. At that time, Ladany signed employment and severance agreements, which included a gag order about Vienna's secret recipes, the suit said.
A few years after leaving Vienna, in 1986, Ladany started the Red Hot Chicago hot dog company. The suit claims that Ladany recently took a different promotional approach, laying claim to Vienna's recipes, pretending to be Vienna and misappropriating the Vienna name and reputation among consumers and vendors, the suit said. However, the ruling this week acknowledges that most of Red Hot's advertising has been the same for years and that much of the advertising is "literally true."
Red Hot Chicago's website doesn't mention Vienna but repeatedly and prominently uses the tagline, "A family tradition since 1893," which refers to the history of the Vienna hotdog, in which Ladany's family played a role. Both companies sell hot dogs in supermarkets, online, in restaurants and at hot dog stands.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times