Bakery Lands in Court Feud
Heir of Bartlett Humphreys Sues Claiming Name, Recipe Rights; New Shops Open Down-Island but North Tisbury Is Dark
By IAN FEIN
Humphreys, the Vineyard bakery that has been a North Tisbury landmark for more than half a century, is now at the center of a tangled court dispute over the rights to its name and recipes.
At a hearing in Bristol Superior Court yesterday afternoon, Turkey Gobbler sandwiches and Belly Bomb doughnuts were topics for debate. The Hon. Richard T. Moses, an associate justice of the superior court, heard arguments on the request for a preliminary injunction to block Joseph (Michael) Diaz from using the Humphreys name and telephone number for his other business locations on the Island. Plaintiff Joyce Duarte is also demanding the immediate return of recipes she claims Mr. Diaz took from the North Tisbury location. Mr. Diaz has denied the claim.
Mrs. Duarte, a resident of Waterville, Me., who in 2003 inherited the estate of her brother, Bartlett Humphreys, is suing Mr. Diaz, the husband of her niece Donna, for alleged trademark violations and breach of contract, among other things.
Mr. Diaz began working for Mr. Humphreys in 1992 and took over the bakery operation in 1996. He rented the building from Mr. Humphreys and ran the business there until last December, when Mrs. Duarte told Mr. Diaz that she would not renew his lease.
At the time Mrs. Duarte said she planned to have another family member operate the bakery at its longtime location on State Road in the North Tisbury section of West Tisbury. One week after Memorial Day that building remains dark and empty, with the parking lot blocked off to the public.
In a complaint filed last week in Dukes County Superior Court in Edgartown, Mrs. Duarte's attorney charged that Mr. Diaz wrongfully removed equipment and recipes from the building, and that he fraudulently appropriated the name, business and telephone number.
Mr. Diaz opened a Humphreys location in an Edgartown location on Winter street three years ago and last week unveiled a new store in downtown Oak Bluffs, next to Jim's Package Store. He said he also has plans to open a site in Vineyard Haven on State Road in the Woodland Business Center later this summer.
Mr. Diaz's attorney has not yet filed a formal response to the allegations in the complaint.
Because there was no sitting superior court judge at Dukes County, the injunction hearing was moved to Bristol Superior Court in Fall River. Judge Moses took the request under advisement and said he would issue a decision within seven days.
The hearing, which lasted about 90 minutes, centered on the question of whether Mr. Humphreys gave the business to Mr. Diaz and his wife.
Roger D. Matthews, a partner with the Boston law firm of Denner O'Malley LLP, is representing Mrs. Duarte, along with Edward W. Vincent Jr. of Edgartown. Mr. Matthews said the Diaz defense consisted of self-serving statements and documents that failed to prove ownership.
"It's like Peter Pan - if you believe it enough, it will happen," Mr. Matthews said. "There isn't one piece of paper that can be tied to Bart Humphreys that suggests he gave his business and name to the Diazes."
Maureen Mulligan, an attorney with the Boston firm of Ruberto, Israel & Weiner PC, is representing Mr. Diaz. She said Mr. Humphreys did not object to the Diazes opening the Edgartown shop, also with the name Humphreys, in 2002. Mr. Humphreys was aware that the Diazes were using the name, Ms. Mulligan argued, and his estate could not take the name back now.
In 2003 Mr. Diaz also trademarked the name Humphreys Bakery and created a corporation, Humphreys Inc., with himself as president. Prior to then, the official name of the bakery had been Vineyard Foodshop, dating back to when Argie Humphreys, Bartlett's father, first started a shop in Vineyard Haven in 1942.
"All this was done with the blessings of Bart Humphreys - this was who I did business with," Mr. Diaz told the Gazette this week. "He died just over a year after I opened Edgartown Humphreys and the year that I had incorporated. It was all done under his blessings and his advice."
Mrs. Duarte did not return telephone calls from the Gazette.
Mr. Diaz said he has no intention of releasing his rights to the name.
"The name certainly is important to me because it's my wife's heritage," he said. "That's her grandfather and uncle who taught me how to bake."
Mr. Diaz said he did not take any original recipes, which he said he had modified during his many years in the bakery.
"Our success has been based on the Turkey Gobbler - which did not even exist before Donna and I took over the business," he said. "As far as any of baked good products, they've all been modified to suit different needs based on our ability to get ingredients. The original recipes were not kept in a safe. They've always been casual recipes - a pinch of this, a pinch of that."
Mr. Diaz began construction this week on the new Vineyard Haven location where he hopes to have an onsite bakery and outdoor patio. He aims to open the Vineyard Haven shop by the Fourth of July weekend, and sees it as more of a year-round establishment.
He said he still misses his old abode further up State Road.
"I did my day-to-day operations out of North Tisbury. That was my main office - where I punched in every day, a quarter-mile from my house," Mr. Diaz said. "I certainly miss seeing the clientele, but I'm finding that when I'm in any of the other locations I see many of the same faces."
Meanwhile, the North Tisbury location has still not opened. Gazette archives from the 1950s and 1960s show that Argie Humphreys traditionally opened his bakery around Memorial Day or the first week of June.
Mrs. Duarte's son and daughter in law, Michael and Julie Hoyle, filed a food establishment permit application with the West Tisbury board of health two weeks ago.
Mrs. Duarte and the Hoyles appeared before the board of health last night to discuss their application.
Health agent John Powers, who has done a preliminary inspection, said the building is not ready to open because it does not comply with all the health codes. Gas fittings, electrical upgrades, septic pumpouts and parking were all topics for discussion.
The legal dispute was not discussed, but the subject of recipes did surface when board of health chairman David Merry asked whether food service would remain the same.
"Everything is going to stay the same," Mr. Hoyle said. "We are going to add some recipes from grandparents that haven't been seen in there for 10 years and a few things of our own."
Mr. Hoyle said it has been a struggle to get the business open, in part because of the condition of the building and equipment.
"It's been an uphill battle," he said. "I've had to bribe tradesmen with free food later and special sandwich deals later on just to keep their spirits up."
Mr. Powers said a second inspection will be needed.
"Do you have an anticipated opening day?" he asked.
"The pressure is unreal," Mr. Hoyle said. "I personally spoke to 75 carloads of people on Memorial Day weekend. And these are just the people who pulled into the lot to meet me, not the ones just driving by. I feel we need to be open by June 30. I couldn't bear to be on the property if we aren't open on July 1."
Meanwhile, Mr. Diaz said Humphreys in its familiar form will move down-Island.
"I am no longer affiliated with or will be affiliated with the North Tisbury property. So in other words, you will never be able to go in there and see anyone that's ever cooked a Belly Bomb or a loaf of oatmeal bread. There certainly may be some people that go in there and open up a bakery - I can't stop that."
Gazette senior writer James Kinsella and staff writer Rachel Kovac contributed to this report.