The former Duke’s Restaurant building in West Carrollton — which popped back into the news Jan. 9 with the announcement that a hydroponics firm had bought the property and would demolish it — was once the epicenter of an epic legal battle and bitter family feud among the family that owned Dominic’s Restaurant in Dayton.
And the Miami Valley seems to have spawned a disproportionate share of similarly bitter family feuds — from Heidelberg Distributing to Coldwater Cafe — that have spilled over into the court system since the sad Duke’s/Dominic’s four-year saga played out.
As for Duke’s Restaurant— oh, what might have been.
What if former Dominic’s restaurant owner Anne Mantia had not filed the federal breach-of-contract and trademark-infringement lawsuit in 2009 against her stepdaughter Christie Mantia that ultimately doomed Duke’s Restaurant? That suit was filed less than a month after Christie Mantia told the Dayton Daily News that she and a business partner were preparing to open a restaurant using recipes and the former chef from Dominic’s, which had closed two years earlier.
>> RELATED: Dominic’s lawsuit ends after four-year battle, judge orders $100K in legal fees (June 2013)
Anne and Christie Mantia co-owned Dominic’s until 2005, at which point Christie agreed to a buyout in which she accepted $460,000 from her stepmother and agreed to not use the term “Dominic’s” in any future restaurant ventures. Dominic’s had been in business for 50 years when it closed in 2007 while under the sole ownership of Anne Mantia.
What if Anne, Christie and Christie’s business partner in the Duke’s Restaurant venture, Reece Powers III, had instead worked out some kind of deal that would have allowed Duke’s to use former Dominic’s recipes, and all parties could have shared in the proceeds of the restaurant?
What if Powers had decided to obey, rather than defy, a federal judge’s order by opening Duke’s and serving dishes reminiscent of Dominic’s after the judge had ordered him not to?
>> RELATED: Dominic’s case resurfaces: Judges reject Duke’s restaurant owner’s appeal (July 2012)
There’s at least a possibility that Duke’s would be operating today, serving up fine Italian meals (and salads with VERY garlicky house dressing), and employing dozens of people, in West Carrollton.
We’ll never know.
We do know one thing: There were no winners in this family dispute — only losers. Anne Mantia “won” nearly all of the legal rulings, but those victories were mostly symbolic, since Christie Mantia and Powers had already filed for personal bankruptcy by the time the four-year legal battle ended in 2013.
Employees lost what at the time appeared to be promising restaurant jobs. Diners lost out on an opportunity to re-live some of the dishes from the once-popular Dominic’s.
While the Duke’s-Dominic’s lawsuit focused on the bitter fallout between the owner’s granddaughter and her stepmother, the Heidelberg Distributing lawsuit revolved around a sibling dispute between a brother and a sister, who each own half of the business. The case started in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in Cincinnati and went up to the Ohio Supreme Court, which issued its ruling last fall.
And in the still-unresolved Coldwater Cafe case, the lawsuit was filed by the restaurant’s founder against her son, who is the current owner. That case is still pending in Miami County Common Pleas Court.