A Sandwich By Any Other Name

Panera Bread Co. operates a restaurant in the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury, MA. Its lease contains an exclusivity clause that prevents the landlord from leasing space in the mall to another sandwich shop. Qdoba Mexican Grill plans to open a store in the same mall. Relying on the exclusivity clause Panera sued White City’s owner to prevent Qdoba from opening its restaurant. The issue resolved in Worcester Superior Court: is a burrito a sandwich?

Panera’s lease did not define the meaning of sandwich. The trial judge looked up “sandwich” in Webster’s Third International Dictionary: “two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture spread between them.” A burrito, concluded the judge, is “typically made with a single tortilla and stuffed with a choice filling of meat, rice, and beans.” Qdoba introduced expert testimony including that of Chris Schlesinger, owner of the East Coast Grill and Raw Bar in Cambridge and author of The Thrill of the Grill, License to Grill, and other cookbooks: “I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian.” The judge ruled for Qdoba.

The Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly article on this dispute ends with a true puzzler: “If a burrito isn’t a sandwich, what’s a wrap?”

Associated Press, Judge settles food fight by ruling burrito is not a sandwich, Boston Herald.com 10-Nov-06; Food Fight, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, 6-Nov-06, p. 5

(Kudos to JesseR and JJ for pointing out this story.)