Chef breaks silence on landmark Austin restaurant's queso lawsuit
Fort Worth chef Grady Spears is sharing his side of the story regarding a lawsuit that was filed over queso.
On June 28, Austin restaurant Matt's El Rancho filed a lawsuit against Spears' Fort Worth restaurant, Horseshoe Hill Cafe, for featuring "Bob Armstrong Dip" — queso with guacamole and crumbled taco beef thrown in — on its menu.
Bob Armstrong Dip was named after Texas politician Robert Landis Armstrong and has been served both at Matt's El Rancho in Austin — and at Horseshoe Hill Cowboy Café in Fort Worth — for many years.
Matt's claimed that it had proprietary rights to the name of the doctored-up queso recipe, and charged Horseshoe Hill with "trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unjust enrichment."
But a statement from Spears' lawyer emphasizes that Spears had the dish on his menu as a tribute, with the creator's blessing.
"A longtime friendship between Matt Martinez, Jr., of Matt’s El Rancho, and Grady Spears of Horseshoe Hill Cowboy Café included them traveling together and collaborating on television segments on food," the statement says. "Grady considered Matt his mentor, and Matt treated Grady like a son."
"In a moment between the mentor and adopted son, Grady told Matt that he would always keep his spirit alive by having his Bob Armstrong Dip on Grady's restaurant menu, and Matt gave Grady his blessing to serve the dish under the moniker 'Bob Armstrong,'" the statement says.
Spears has had the Bob Armstrong Dip tribute dish on his menu for more than 15 years, at every restaurant he's has been a part of.
"Matt Martinez, Jr., was the King of Tex Mex and served as a mentor to me throughout my career," Spears says in a statement. "I continue to honor Matt's memory in my restaurant, as I promised Matt I would, as he courageously battled cancer prior to his passing. With his blessing, I used the name of Bob Armstrong on a queso-based dip inspired by his inimitable culinary style."
After the lawsuit surfaced, Horseshoe Hill Cowboy Café voluntarily changed the name of its dip to the "Famous Lawsuit Dip."
Lance H. "Luke" Beshara, Spears' defense attorney, says the claims lack merit.
"Aside from the fact that the plaintiff corporation admits that Grady Spears' late friend Matt Martinez, Jr., created and coined the dish, and Matt gave Grady Spears permission to use the name, there is no viable trademark claim because no consumer could possibly be confused that a queso-dip at a restaurant in the Fort Worth Stockyards has anything to do with another dip at a restaurant 200 miles away in Austin," he says.
Matt's manager Paul Counter did not respond to a request for comment. The lawsuit and dispute remain unresolved.
Spears says the episode has him shocked and saddened.
"As a tribute and inspiration, I display many pictures of Matt throughout my restaurant," Spears says. "I'm shocked and saddened that a faceless corporation would attack me for honoring the legacy of my dear late friend, Matt, though I’m glad this hullabaloo has brought his name back into the limelight where it deserves to be."
"I just hope they don't demand that I take down Matt's pictures next," he says.