Judge weighs in favor of Quiznos franchisee in 5-oz. meat suit

DENVER A federal court judge here recently dismissed a breach of contract lawsuit Quiznos filed in October 2006 against a franchisee in Pennsylvania that accused the operator of intentionally serving a sandwich with less than the required 5 ounces of meat.

After a five-day trial in early December, Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman issued a 38-page ruling Dec. 31 in favor of the franchisees, Richard Piotrowski and Ellen Blickman of ZigZag Restaurant LLC, who operated a store in Coopersburg, Pa. Hoffman dismissed the case with prejudice and ordered Quiznos to pay the couple $349,797, plus fees, costs and interest.

Although disappointed by Hoffman’s ruling, Quiznos is focused on building positive partnerships with franchisees, president and chief executive Dave Deno said Wednesday. Deno joined the sandwich chain last year from Yum! Brands Inc., where he had been chief operating officer. He was part of a regime change that began in 2007 with the appointment of Burger King veteran Greg Brenneman as chief executive. Brenneman is now Quiznos' executive chairman.

According to the ruling, Quiznos, the Denver-based franchisor of more than 5,000 sandwich outlets, sued the couple after launching a summer ad campaign in 2006 that claimed Quiznos’ Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich had double the meat of rival Subway’s cheese steak sub.

To avoid claims of false advertising, Quiznos had mystery shoppers test the weight of the cheese steak sandwiches franchisees were selling, the ruling said. Franchisees found in violation were sent termination notices. However, those who contacted Quiznos via e-mail were told they did not have to close and were given another chance to pass the meat weight test. Piotrowski and Blickman were given a termination notice after a mystery shopper reported that the meat in a cheese steak sandwich he purchased in their store weighed only 4 ounces instead of the required 5 ounces.

According to court documents,Piotrowski called rather than e-mailed Quiznos’ Denver headquarters, but never received a return phone call. Later when he intimated in a message that he was planning a press conference about the matter, he was contacted by Quiznos’ former legal officer Michael Daigle. Daigle claimed the couple had “materially harmed the brand” in violation of the franchise contract. Quiznos still ordered them to close even after they passed another meat weight test.

In response to the ruling, Deno told Nation’s Restaurant News: “It is certainly not our desire to engage in litigation with our franchisees. Instead, we will continue to dedicate our resources to improving franchise profitability, strengthening relationships with franchise owners and enhancing the Quiznos brand.”