Battle of the Bands, Valley restaurant edition: Toby Keith v. Rascal Flatts

PHOENIX - It's the "Battle of the Bands" or in this case, a battle of the country-themed restaurant, bar and live music venues.

The clash is between champion and well-established Toby Keith's I Love this Bar and Grill, and underdog, Rascal Flatts.

Keith's restaurants have 15 locations throughout the country. The one in Mesa has been around for more than four years now. One recently opened in Peoria, and there is a third in Tucson.

They are trying to stop Rascal Flatts from opening its own chain of restaurants.

Philip Lama of Broken Road Productions signed an exclusive licensing deal with Rascal Flatts. His total budget is $4.3 million.

"They were just overwhelmed with how nice it came out," said Lama. "We wanted to be a first-class, upscale, contemporary facility."

Lama planned to open one of the first Rascal Flatts restaurants here in the Valley this year.

Ten more would follow in major cities across the country.

"We'll have an indoor-outdoor bar somewhere along in here," said Lama.

But, then the CEO of Toby Keith's restaurants threw the first punch, legally speaking.

The main owner, Frank Capri and his company, Boomtown Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Lama and Rascal Flatts citing violations of trademark, trade secrets and breach of contract.

Records show Lama worked for Capri and Toby Keith's restaurants in the past and signed a confidentiality agreement.

In the suit, Capri alleges Lama stole inside information and plans to use it to build Rascal Flatts restaurants. The suit claims the restaurants look similar.

"Clearly, there is nothing here that resembles or even comes close to looking like Toby Keith's," said Lama, "You have to be in a coma not to realize that our projects are so different."

The lawsuit put everything on hold for Lama because Capri asked the court for an injunction to stop building.

"It's not like we have some secret way of building a bar," said Lama.

There are a few other restaurants that include music themes in the Valley, like Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row.

In round two, Lama came out swinging.

He fought back with legal discovery uncovering what he calls, "fake documents". In court filings, he claims there are letters that appear to be from Wells Fargo stating that Capri and Toby Keith's restaurants had millions of dollars on hand.

The bank told the ABC15 Investigators that these letters did not come from them. They also told the court.

"It is called a sworn declaration that was prepared by a division of the bank," said Lama.

He thinks the lawsuit is a personal attack on him. "This has nothing to do with anything that he is alleging. It's purely personal."

The court sealed these two letters basically saying they had no bearing on the dispute. But, the court also denied the injunction. So, now Lama can build the Rascal Flatts restaurants. The judge also ruled on various motions showing that Lama did not appear to violate trademark, trade secrets or breach of contract.

See judge's order on abc15.com

But then about a month later, Capri filed a new lawsuit against Lama for defamation in county court.

We asked Frank Capri for an on-camera interview, but his lawyer told us they won't talk or comment since the case is still in court.

In this latest defamation lawsuit, Frank Capri says Philip Lama defamed him by using those Wells Fargo documents, claiming he obtained them "improperly", they are "irrelevant", and that he's providing "false and private facts".

But Lama is not giving up just yet.

"This is all garbage. Basically, it is nonsense. His attorney knows it. He knows it. This is nothing more than harassment," said Lama.

The underdog is holding his own. Lama is working on a deal to build a Rascal Flatts across from the U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.

The trial is set for 2015.

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