If you've been to Café Martorano, you know there's no restaurant like it. The white walls, the huge bar in the center, the booming music, the videos of old gangster movies -- nobody does dining like this. Then there's the food: throwbacks to Italian-American classics that make restaurant critics rave and diners wondering if he puts something addictive in the sauce.
So when someone copies the concept, that gets owner Steve Martorano's attention. Last month, Martorano filed this federal lawsuit in Providence, Rhode Island, accusing a restaurant there of unfairly copying Café Martorano's concept.
The lawsuit accuses restaurateur Jerry Longo of robbing Martorano's concept for his
Café Longo restaurant. Longo didn't return a phone call from the Juice, but in this answer to the lawsuit filed September 17, he denied that he stole the concept.
Martorano says he hadn't considered filing a suit until he read a newspaper story from Providence that quoted Longo saying that Longo had invented the concept 30 years ago in Fort Lauderdale.
"I started this music-and-videos concept 30 years ago," Martorano said. "Lots of people try to copy it, but when you say you invented it, that rubs me the wrong way. That's not right."
Martorano said he looked at the menu and saw too many similarities. His "eggplant stack" is the same dish as Longo's "eggplant on the hill." His calamari and peppers and his meatball and salad are too similar to dishes on Longo's menu, Martorano said.
"When you look at his menu and you look at my menu, there are too many things the same," Martorano said.
Martorano and Longo actually have a long history together. They know each other from the same South Philadelphia neighborhood where they grew up, and they've worked together in the past. They worked together during a party for the cast of The Sopranos at a Connecticut casino years ago, casting themselves as childhood friends.
But Martorano says it's a matter of pride. "I can't stop people from putting veal parm on the menu, but it shouldn't be right for someone to just copy what you're doing and say it's his."