Who owns the name Sandy’s Cafe in Key West?

Sandy’s Cafe has become a trademark case in federal court over who owns the name of the popular food stand in Key West.
Sandy’s Cafe has become a trademark case in federal court over who owns the name of the popular food stand in Key West. Keynoter

A Key West cafe’s name has become a federal case of Sandy’s vs. Sandy’s.

But it’s not a divorce, rather a trademark case between the man who has leased and run the business since 1994 and the man whose father started a popular Key West Cuban cafe in 1984.

Fernando Caceres says since he has operated Sandy’s Cafe since 1994, pays all of its taxes and runs the entire business —and recently added a food-truck business with the name and used the name on social media — he owns the name, claiming the business was sold to him by the late Inocente “Sandy” Santiago with a handshake deal.

“This is how the old guard used to be,” said attorney Darren Horan, who represents the Santiago family. “It explains why everything should be done on paper.”

Caceres filed a lawsuit at U.S. District Court in Key West Jan. 23 against Sandy Santiago Jr. He even filed the case under the name Sandy’s Cafe.

Santiago Jr., whose father started the business that is run out of a building the family owns at 1026 White St., says he has the right to keep using the Sandy’s name. Sandy was his father Inocente Santiago’s nickname, and now it’s the nickname of his namesake son.

Santiago and Caceres parted ways in December, a year after Sandy Sr. died — Caceres says he was evicted while Santiago’s attorney said Caceres balked at signing a lease.

“He’s still there until Sunday the 31st,” Horan said. “For 24 years they operated on a week-to-week oral lease.”

Santiago made plans to lease it to another family as Sandy’s Cafe, a spot known for its cafe con leche and Cuban mixes.

According to Caceres, shortly following his father’s funeral, Santiago “brashly commented to Mr. Caceres that, should Mr. Caceres ‘die tomorrow,’ Santiago would rent Sandy’s Cafe out the next day,” the lawsuit states.

The remark sparked the lawsuit, Caceres said. He announced this week on Facebook he is moving Sandy’s Cafe down to 1100 White St.

It will also be called Sandy’s Cafe, Caceres says.

“He can open a restaurant,” said Horan. “But if he tries to name it Sandy’s Cafe, he’s going to be involved in two lawsuits.”

Santiago earlier this month formed new LLCs with various versions of the name, including The World Famous Sandy’s Cafe and Original Sandy’s Cafe. Horan threatened to slap Caceres with a court order if he tries to use the Sandy’s name at his new Cuban cuisine restaurant in the same neighborhood

Caceres in 2010 formed the business Sandy’s Cafe under state law.

The case has been assigned to Chief Judge K. Michael Moore.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen