From SD Union-Tribune, June 2000:

Amid the clutter of taco stands dotting the local retail landscape, there
seem to be as many variations on the name "Alberto's" as items on a grande
combination plate.

Some of the many tongue-tying alterations evoking basic, inexpensive Mexican
fare: Aiberto's, Alberta's, Albertu's, Albertaco and Albert's.

Which all makes the owners of the venerable Alberto's brand -- a fast-food
fixture in the county for 22 years -- sizzle with litigious indignation.

"There are so many knockoffs out there that we've been forced to take action
to protect our trademark," said Patrick Rea, the newly appointed franchise
director for Alberto's Oceanside-based parent company, Chaparro's Mexican

Chaparro's plans to launch an ambitious Alberto's franchising program, as
well as to clean up Alberto's sagging public image after the chain's
original owners were sentenced to federal prison two years ago for tax

The campaign to erase the company's sound-alike rivals currently consists of
a four-page notice to alleged offenders requesting that they either change
their monickers or come into the Alberto's fold as franchisees.

"Restaurant names that begin with the letters 'Ab,' 'Ai,' 'Al,' 'Ali' and
'Alb' and-or end in the letters 'berto's,' 'berta's,' 'bertu's,' 'erto's' or
'to's' will be most vigorously pursued to be changed," reads part of the
letter sent to dozens of area restaurants last week.

Efforts to contact the owners of several of the disputed Mexican-food
outlets were unsuccessful.

Alberto's -- which once boasted as many as 50 outlets in the Southwest --
currently operates company-owned stores in Escondido and Poway and
franchises a dozen other shops.

Owned for the last two years by family members Abel Dominguez, Leonor Luna
and Arcelia Dominguez, Alberto's competes with such popular San Diego-based
Mexican fast-food chains as Roberto's and Cotija, as well as dozens of
independent stands.

Retail analysts said Alberto's efforts to protect its name recalls similar
moves by such corporate behemoths as McDonald's and Toys 'R' Us against
smaller copycats.

"A company's brand is sacrosanct; it's what they live and die by," said
George Whalin, the editor of Retail Management Letter in San Marcos.
"Alberto's is doing the right thing."

Alberto's was founded in 1978 by brothers Alvaro and Juan Diego Rodriguez,
who patterned their first shop on Convoy Street after the popular Roberto's
taco stores established years earlier by their uncle, Roberto Robledo.

They even named the establishment Roberto's. Ironically, as it turns out,
Robledo sued, forcing them to quickly come up with the variation Alberto's.

Within 10 years, Alvaro and Juan Diego had built a network of 21 of the
garish, red-and-yellow Alberto's eateries, including two shops in Orange

However, some store operators later accused the Rodriguez brothers of
accepting franchise fees in an informal system of payment, then denying the
franchisees ownership of their shops.

Members of the Dominguez family, who had worked in Alberto's stores since
the early 1990s, ultimately sued the Rodgriguez brothers for control of two
of the shops.

In a 1998 Superior Court ruling, the Dominguezes were awarded ownership of
the Alberto's name.

Alvaro and Juan Diego Rodriguez were sentenced the same year to 33 months in
prison for tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue
Service of at least $1.4 million. It seems that the brothers' tax returns
understated the cash payments they received from their outlet operators.

Rea said many of the stores that Chaparro Mexican Foods is pursuing were
once part of the Alberto's chain.

"We're asking them to come back into the fold, no hard feelings," Rea said.
"But, if not, change the name to, say, Joe's Taco Shop.' "

Besides a new franchise program, which is expected to add 10 to 12 new
stores yearly, Alberto's is also reworking its menu to include some
low-calorie fare, such as grilled chicken salads and chicken bowls.

The idea is to lure more females and older folks into the shops (the chain's
primary customers currently are males ages 18 to 40).

"We're going to do a market analysis, see where we fit, and reposition
ourselves," Rea said.

back to