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Menu Doppelgänger Accusations Arise Between Latin Bites and Aji Peruvian Cafe

Is this a case of theft or inspiration?

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This is one of several dishes Latin Bites is accusing Aji Peruvian Cafe of stealing.
This is one of several dishes Latin Bites is accusing Aji Peruvian Cafe of stealing.
Aji Peruvian Cafe/Facebook

This summer, CultureMap noticed similarities between Upper Kirby favorite, Kata Robata, and Sugar Land newcomer, Mochi Sushi. Both restaurants serve Japanese fare, but Mochi Sushi whose chefs created Sugar Land's new ramen destination menu after leaving Kata Robata also offered similar menu items, plating style and tableware that were a signature of Kata Robata. Could another notable Houston-area restaurant be in the same predicament? According to the Houston Chronicle, the answer is yes.

"It has been brought to our attention…that the restaurant Aji Peruvian Cafe is serving food items that look and taste exactly like those of Latin Bites," wrote Carlos Ramos, co-owner of Latin Bites in a statement to the Chronicle. Ramos alleges former employees who trained under him, stole recipes and plating techniques unique to Latin Bites for use at Aji Peruvian Cafe. Ramos further asserts the cooks had no previous knowledge of Peruvian cuisine because they were Mexican.

This isn't the first time Latin Bites has made claims of copyright infringement against the four-month-old restaurant. Co-owner Rita Castre, contacted Eater Houston in August with the same allegations. She provided what she believed to be visual evidence of Aji Peruvian Cafe's alleged use of its recipe and presentation. According to Castre, a former cook employed by the family-run ceviche haven, allegedly took what they learned from their two year stint to Aji Peruvian Cafe.

Castre accused the restaurant of copyright infringement; however, no such law subjects recipes and plating to copyright protection. When asked if Castre, her brother and husband would file a lawsuit against the former chef and owners of Aji Peruvian Cafe, Castre wouldn't provide a response at the time.

A representative with Aji Peruvian Cafe denied the accusations of stolen recipes. The employee also noted that their plating wasn't inspired or taken from Latin Bites. Pilar Forkel, co-owner of Aji Peruvian provided a similar statement to Houston Chronicle. "I’m from Peru, too, I go to restaurants in Lima, and in Peru right now there are too many similar presentations to what Latin Bites does. Google "causa Limena" and you’ll see that what Gaston Acurio is doing looks exactly like Latin Bites." Houston Chronicle food critic and writer, Alison Cook searched and found similarities.

While a few dishes - more so the cebiches - posted online by Aji Peruvian Cafe are visually similar to Latin Bites, both restaurants have different concepts. Latin Bites offers high-end fare with a focus on cebiche while Aji Peruvian Cafe, the more casual and empanda-centric of the two, serves a menu that includes sandwiches and limited entrees. Aji Peruvian Cafe's assessable menu is partly what landed the restaurant on Eater Houston's list of under-the-radar restaurants earlier this month.

When it comes to Peruvian cuisine, where there's only a handful of restaurants in Greater Houston, the more the merrier should be the mantra. Houston's a big and sprawling city, you'd think there would be room for both. Gerry Sarmiento, owner of Piqueo in Cypress, agrees. The Peruvian restaurant owner shared his thoughts on the subject in radio and television food personality Cleverley Stone's Facebook group, Houston Foodie Friends.

How many Peruvian restaurants are in Houston? I can count hand. So there shouldn't be any reason for any wars. Latin Bites is a great restaurant (in my book) but haven't been (yet) to Aji. Peruvian restaurants should band together to move our culinary might forward. There is no space for wars.
In a perfect world, restaurants banding together would be ideal, similar to the various bar owners involved with The Original OKRA Charity Saloon. There may be no space for wars but this is Houston, home to tons of restaurants. If there's anything food lovers adore more than great restaurants, it's a food war.