Storm in a teashop called Forte

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The Independent Online
A distant relation of the illustrious Forte family is being pursued by lawyers acting for giant Granada - because he has opened a small teashop under his own name in Winchester.

Domenico Forte, 60, dishes out cups of tea and pastries at a tea-room within a few hundred yards of the Forte Heritage hotel in the same town.

Granada, which earlier this year bought Forte, the hotel and restaurant group, for pounds 3.9bn, has instructed its lawyers to write to Mr Forte, giving him two weeks to change the name of the shop in Parchment Street or risk legal action.

"We believe there is some room for confusion," a spokesman for Forte said yesterday, pointing out that the hotel was not far from Mr Forte's shop. "This is a normal act of protecting our name."

But Mr Forte said his family has been in the trade for decades, ever since his grandfather opened a chain of ice-cream parlours at the end of the last century. "We don't model ourselves on Forte," he said, adding that he charged only 95p for a cup of tea, far less than the sums normally demanded in Forte hotel restaurants.

He added that his family had operated shops in coastal towns for many years, without attracting the attention of the better-known Fortes, whose patriarch Charles was founder of the eponymous company. Charles Forte's coffee shops spawned an empire that eventually including hotels, Little Chef restaurants, a corporate jet and huge central London offices and took him all the way to the House of Lords. It was one of the country's best-known leisure brands, until it was bought by Granada.

Domenico Forte set up his Winchester shop with money saved from a career as an instructor at a convent. He said yesterday he had long wanted to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and enter the catering trade.

"We have no objection to fair competition," Forte said yesterday. But the company "cannot allow its most important brand name to be utilised by third parties".

In a statement, Forte added: "The use of the name on the tea rooms at Winchester is clearly an infringement of trade mark and the matter is currently being dealt with by our solicitors."

The Winchester case is not the first to involve claims of infringement and famous names. Christopher Dunhill, a member of the tobacco family, and Paolo Gucci, linked to the fashion giant, both lost their right to use their famous names in business.

The Forte spokesman said the company was confident it would win its case. Mr Forte, for his part, vowed to keep fighting.

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