Food fight

Jan 10, 2001 at 12:00 am

Trick question: What’s the difference between a Subway sandwich shop and a juice bar that serves fresh-squeezed juices, herbal teas, meatless sandwiches and, for good measure, assures that all its paper products—straws included — are 100 percent recyclable? If you don’t know, you probably don’t get out much.

Or, at the very least, you haven’t been out to Atom’s Juice Café in Grosse Pointe.

News Hits brings all this up to draw attention to the fact that Atom’s, which made the mistake of setting up shop three doors down from a Subway, is being sued for allegedly attempting to cut in on the franchise’s business.

Here’s the story: Last August, two brothers, John and Dave Chetcuti opened Atom’s Juice Café after leasing space from Fisher Road Properties in a small strip of adjoining buildings. According to John, the Chetcutis submitted a list of items they intended to sell to FRP; the company wanted to ensure that the little vegan diner (where dairy products are also a no-no) would not compete with any other business renting space in the half-block strip on Fisher Road. After FRP approved the list, the Chetcutis began selling their dairy-free flan, organic coffees and wheat grass to the lactose-intolerant and granola types.

But last November, Fisher Road Properties slapped the Chetcutis with a lawsuit after Tom and Doris Odren, owners of the adjacent Subway franchise, sued FRP for breach of contract. According to Tom Odren, Fisher Road Properties agreed to not rent space to competing businesses.

“I want the landlord to uphold my lease, which says that they will not rent to anyone that competes with me within a mile of my place” says Odren.

He contends that Atom’s was to serve only juice, coffee, tea and smoothies. But when the Chetcutis started selling other products—like soy sandwiches and dairy-free cookies, Odren says that they crossed the line.

“If you look at what they have on their menu, it’s sandwiches and we sell sandwiches too, they sell soup and we sell soup too. They sell chips and cookies and juice and we do too.”

It doesn’t matter to the Subway shop owner that Atom’s cookies, sandwiches, soups and chips cater to a different breed of eater. To Odren, food’s food, and the Chetcutis are stealing his customers.

“Regular customers that used to come in every day don’t anymore,” he says. “I don’t want them to have their hands in my pocket.”

Attorney Vincent Hoyumpa represents Fisher Road Properties, which he says does not see Atom’s as competing with Odren. FRP sued the Chetcutis only to ensure that they have a voice in the case, says Hoyumpa. In fact, FRP says that it is Subway that is competing with Atom’s.

“Subway was not selling juices until after Atom’s opened,” he says. “They did the same with soup.”

That ought to bolster the lawsuits that Atom’s attorney Gary Wilson says will be filed today (Jan. 10) against Subway and Fisher Road Properties.

Just how this feeding frenzy will turn out is anyone’s guess. But Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Stephens, who is overseeing the case, wisely decided last month to have an arbitrator help resolve the lawsuits by April before both restaurants drive each other out of business.

With a little luck, good old American capitalism, a Subway and a juice bar will all survive on the same block.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]