BoomBozz owner suing former pizzeria franchisees over new restaurant

The owner of BoomBozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse is suing its former Fishers and Carmel franchisees for allegedly using the company’s intellectual property to open Crafters Pizza and Draft House in Carmel.

Louisville-based TBB America LLC, BoomBozz’s holding company, filed a lawsuit last week alleging franchise partners Michael House and Brian Hall violated their contracts and are now using the company’s likeness and trade secrets to operate a competing restaurant at 2430 E. 146th St., in the former Carmel BoomBozz location.

Meanwhile, House is involved in a separate lawsuit in Floyd County that alleges BoomBozz founder Tony Palombino misrepresented the Hustbourne, Kentucky, franchise’s potential financial performance before pitting it against the chain’s other locations.

Josh Brown, a partner with Indianapolis-based law firm Cohen Garelick & Glazier, who is representing House in both cases, declined to answer questions about the lawsuits.

“My clients will be vigorously defending against these allegations and plan to pursue all of our legal options through the court system both in this matter that is presently in federal court and the other related matter that is in Floyd County …,” Brown said in an email to IBJ.

According to court records in the Hamilton County case, TBB signed a franchise agreement with House and his restaurant operating company, Naptown Pizzerias LLC, in 2009. House opened his first BoomBozz in Carmel in early 2012 and a second in Fishers in 2016.

TBB alleges the franchisees approached Palombino in 2016 to try and buy the company, but Palombino and TBB declined “after learning that Hall and House were disparaging Mr. Palombino and the Boombozz franchise to other franchisees,” the suit says.

The company’s relationship with House and Hall then deteriorated, TBB alleges, after the franchisees refused to follow the company’s directives, including introducing new menu items and complying with its quality control and branding standards.

TBB also states that it received notice from the National Football League that House and Hall promoted their restaurants using the NFL’s trademarks and players’ likenesses without authorization, thereby opening the company up to a lawsuit.

In 2019, the Carmel location’s 10-year franchise agreement neared its expiration. TBB allowed the franchisees to continue operating even though negotiations were ongoing. The company claims, during that time, House and Hall tried to switch food providers without TBB’s permission.

The suit says Hall emailed TBB’s marketing specialist in September to receive a digital copy of BoomBozz’s customer email database. Hall and House closed the Fishers restaurant at 9887 E. 116th St. in mid-November without notifying TBB and soon after changed the franchise holding company’s assumed name with the state to “Crafters Pizza Drafthouse.”

TBB alleges House and Hall then launched a promotion in November and December 2020 that sold customers gift certificates and BoomBozz “bonus bucks” with the purchase of a gift card—all while knowing they’d soon be closing the restaurant.

“Defendants sold thousands of dollars in gift cards through this unauthorized promotion,” TBB’s court filing states. “The money paid by customers for these gift cards was paid directly to Defendants.”

The local franchisees bought an inordinate amount of menu ingredients in early December, according to TBB and closed the Carmel location on Dec. 31 without notice. TBB said it started receiving complaints from customers about the promotion and was forced in some cases to refund customers.

Crafters opened in early January, according to the suit, using the same phone number, location, recipes, menu items, promotional materials, restaurant layout and more that had been established under the BoomBozz brand.

“With Crafters, Defendants are doing nothing more than operating a Boombozz under a different name,” TBB’s case states. “For much of the Crafters food offerings, those items could not be made unless Defendants were using TBB’s trade secrets, including protected recipes and food preparation processes, confidential information, and/or other proprietary materials.”

TBB is seeking monetary damages and an order that would prevent Hall and House from operating a competing restaurant under the terms of those in the Carmel and Fishers franchise agreements.

That would mean, for the next two years, Hall and House would not be able to engage with a competing restaurant within 50 miles of any TBB-owned or affiliated business. They’d also be barred from doing so within 50 miles of Marion, Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks, Johnson, Madison, Hancock, Bartholomew and Monroe counties.

Those restrictions could get even tighter as TBB states in its filing that it intends to operate Boombozz franchises in the Indianapolis area in the immediate future, and that it’s already in discussions with potential franchisees.

BoomBozz has one restaurant left in Indiana, in Jeffersonville. It operates has four restaurants in Kentucky and three in Tennessee.

In addition to founding BoomBozz in Louisville in 1998, Palombino launched Joella’s Hot Chicken in 2015. Joella’s has nearly 19 locations in five states, including five in Indiana.

House is also a franchisee with restaurant chain Taco John’s. In 2015, he signed an agreement to open five Taco John’s in the Indianapolis area, with an option for an additional 10 units. So far, one Taco John’s has opened locally, in Lebanon, in 2019.

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