Chick-fil-A said to ask court to define a competitor

MOUNT DORA Fla. In another challenge of a restaurant’s popular categorization, Chick-fil-A has asked a judge to halt development of a Panda Express here because of how much chicken it might sell, according to local media reports.

The proposed unit would be next door to a Chick-fil-A restaurant. The Atlanta-based chain reportedly said deed restrictions prohibit the site from being occupied by a competing chain. Specifically banned, Chick-fil-A was said to indicate, are units of KFC, Boston Market, Bojangles, Popeyes, Wendy’s or chains that generate at least 25 percent of their sales from chicken. Panda Express, a concept usually categorized as Asian, sells a number of chicken dishes, and its signature Chinese dish is Orange Chicken.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Chick-fil-A has sued Panda Restaurant Group, the Rosemead, Calif.-based parent of Panda Express, to halt construction of the store. Neither Chick-Fil-A nor Panda Restaurant Group officials could be reached for comment as of press time. The Sentinel said the complaint is scheduled to be heard in an Ocala, Fla., federal court on Jan. 7.

In October 2006, a court in Massachusetts rejected an attempt by a local Panera Bread Co. franchisee to block the opening of a Qdoba burrito outlet in a Shrewsbury shopping center. The Panera unit’s lease stipulated that the shopping center could not lease space to a competitor, defined in part as any concept that generated more than 10 percent of sales from sandwiches. A judge decided that a burrito was different from a sandwich.

In the pending Chick-fil-A case, however, the chicken chain’s lawyers cited a case in which a Domino's Pizza was ordered to move because an older Italian restaurant had pizza on its menu. The newcomer was indeed deemed to be a competitor.

Chick-fil-A operates a chain of more than 1,300 restaurants in 37 states. Panda Express has 1,049 restaurants, also in 37 states as well as in Puerto Rico and two locations in Japan.