[StBernard] Divorce sours Randazzo family business

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Dec 28 22:59:29 EST 2008

Divorce sours Randazzo family business
by Ronette King, The Times-Picayune
Sunday December 28, 2008, 5:24 PM
There's a new Randazzo in the bakery business, just in time for the kickoff
for Carnival and king cake season.

This time, though, the new contender was born of a divorce, a new business
partnership and a Jefferson district court restraining order. The newest
addition -- Dianne Randazzo LLC bakery -- debuted last week at 5136 W. River
Oaks Road in Elmwood.

The Randazzo family has been in the bakery business since 1965, spawning
spinoff businesses in Violet, St. Tammany and Metairie and making the family
name synonymous with king cakes.

The latest venture represents Dianne Randazzo's effort to strike out on her
own in the wake of her divorce from Manny of Manny Randazzo's King Cakes at
3515 N. Hullen St. in Metairie. At the same time, it touches off another
round of legal wrangling over the rights to a venerable name in the local
bakery business.

The king of seasons

When Manny and Dianne Randazzo were married, they served as a one-two punch
in the king cake business. She worked the counter, ringing up sales and
chatting with customers who became friends.

Manny ran the ovens in back, as his father did before him. Their three
children grew up there, playing on the floor while their parents clocked out
of their day jobs as court reporters to bake full time during the Carnival
season. It went on that way for years, first when the couple worked in the
family's original St. Bernard Parish outlet: Randazzo's Bakery. In 1992,
Manny and Dianne opened their own bakery, Manny Randazzo's King Cakes in
Metairie, where customers routinely lined up outside before the doors opened
at 6 a.m.

Now Dianne Randazzo is setting up a business of her own.

"I'm just trying to re-establish a business I was involved in for all those
years," she said. That's no simple matter when your married name is
synonymous with the tri-colored confection that becomes a must-have each
Carnival season.

For New Orleans area bakeries, Carnival season is akin to the December
shopping season for retailers. Bakeries crank out thousands of king cakes.
And the weeks of frenzied dough rolling, baking and decorating sprinkle
financial sweetness through the rest of a bakery's fiscal year.

Much is at stake for local bakeries during king cake season. So much, in
fact, that before Dianne opened her shop, Manny Randazzo sought a temporary
injunction from a Jefferson Parish district court to bar her from using the
Randazzo name in a way that would confuse customers and make them believe
Dianne's cakes were Manny's.

True, other branches of the Randazzo family operate bakeries in the New
Orleans area. And those expansions have, at times, caused conflict and
prompted lawsuits.

But those other ventures are different: they are run by blood relatives,
said Bruce Miller, the Metairie lawyer who represented Manny Randazzo in
seeking the injunction against Dianne. Besides, as part of the property
partition in the divorce, Dianne Randazzo got 800,000 reasons not to
compete, Miller said.

Dianne Randazzo is being paid -- $882,000 in installments -- for the
business as part of the divorce settlement. "The whole point of it was that
(the payment money) should have been sufficient," Miller said.

No non-compete pact

There are no legal constraints to keep Dianne Randazzo from starting her own
bakery since she didn't sign what is known as a non-compete agreement. Manny
Randazzo didn't ask Diane to sign a non-compete agreement because as the
couple divided property as part of divorce proceedings, he got the business.

Manny Randazzo said he never imagined his ex-wife would want to go back into
the bakery business. "She never liked it," he said, referring to the hard
work and hectic pace the enterprise demands.

"Dianne is just using her married name because she recognizes it will draw
customers to her business," Manny Randazzo said. "I bought my ex-wife out of
this business, then a year later she hooks up with a caterer and a baseball
coach and they're going to make Randazzo's king cakes."

Dianne's business partners are Louisiana State University sports figure
Wally Pontiff Sr. and John Caluda, who runs a catering business.

Dianne says she's just trying to build a business that will continue the
family legacy for her three children, who learned the business from their
father just as he did from his father.

She acknowledges that running a bakery is hectic, but says she grew
accustomed to the rhythm of it after so many years and likes mingling with

"The bakery business is a hard business," Dianne Randazzo said. "You're
sleeping when people are working and working when people are sleeping." But,
she said, "I'm a businesswoman and a mom."

The judge rules

There's no way legally to bar a person from using their legal name, said
Gary Elkins, a New Orleans lawyer who is not involved in the Randazzo case
but represented Dickie Brennan when some of his family members sued him over
how he used the family name in his restaurants.

However, it is clear that the Randazzo name has obtained a secondary meaning
that people identify with a particular product, in this case king cakes,
Judge John Molaison Jr. ruled following the Oct. 28 hearing on Manny
Randazzo's request for an injunction.

Still, Dianne Randazzo should sufficiently distinguish her bakery from all
other Randazzo family enterprises, in ways such as including her first name
so customers won't get confused, Molaison wrote in his decision. Molaison
also ruled that Dianne can't use the phrase "Randazzo Family Recipe" or
"Randazzo Family" either.

Expansions from the original Randazzo's Bakery in Chalmette have caused
internal disputes over the years after founder Sam Randazzo left the
business to his three sons, Lawrence, Anthony and Manuel Sr.

Their children have, at times, bickered over operations of the original
bakery and how profits were divided. When the younger Manny opened his
bakery in Metairie in 1992, for example, his uncle Lawrence filed a lawsuit
against him for using the family name and recipe without compensating the
original shop.

Although Molaison has ruled in the most recent Randazzo case involving Manny
and Dianne, the dispute may not be over.

Manny Randazzo is taking a wait-and-see-approach, but plans to seek a
permanent injunction to control how Dianne uses the family name.

"He would hope that she would abide by the wording and intent of the
ruling," said Miller, Manny's attorney. "It really depends on what she does
this king cake season."

Ronette King can be reached at 504.826.3308 or rking at timespicayune.com.

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