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Cookie Case Crumbles for Ranch Market

September 26, 1987|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

It took a morning's worth of argument Friday, but Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Ronald L. Bauer managed to resolve the great cookie case.

Coconut macaroons are out, he ruled. Muffins are OK, but only if they're not poppy seed, honey raisin bran, date nut, blueberry, corn or chocolate chunk.

What Bauer decided was a dispute between cookie and muffin maker Nancy Feil of Neal's Cookies and her landlord, the Irvine Ranch Farmers' Market, the folks who run the glitzy Atrium Court in Fashion Island.

Gourmet Goodies

Feil's stand is one of a number of gourmet food shops in the court, known for interesting fare at high prices.

When Feil rented her 170-square-foot space and opened last April, she thought she had the exclusive right to sell muffins and cookies in the court.

Business boomed for several months, then plummeted. She soon discovered why: her landlord had started selling freshly baked muffins and cookies at about half a dozen spots in the court.

"I believe they saw my muffin sales were doing well," Feil said. "They saw there was a good potential to cash in and they took it."

Feil sued the Irvine Ranch Market, claiming that the landlord violated the terms of the lease. She sought money damages and a court order prohibiting sales of competing items by the market.

Bauer agreed, signing a temporary restraining order Friday sharply limiting the market's cookie and muffin sales. Basically, Bauer forbade sales of the gourmet muffin varieties that Feil also produces. He also prohibited the market from selling other flavors of muffins and of macaroon cookies within 50 feet of Feil's shop.

Market attorney Ronald Brown could not be reached for comment.

Feil said her fledgling business was teetering on the edge and that her landlord would not give her a chance.

"I can't survive the way it is. There's no way I can make anything when I'm competing against them," Feil said.

The order is effective immediately. Feil hopes her shop, a franchise of Texas-based Neal's Cookies, will return to profitability.

When she signed the lease last year, sales were projected at $750 to $1,000 a day, more than three times what she says she has been taking in.

Bauer did deny a claim by Feil's attorney, Thomas R. Malcolm, that another business, Il Fornaio America Corp., was selling cookies in violation of the lease agreement.

But Bauer did not bite. The lease, he said, specifically allows Il Fornaio the right to sell Italian cookies in the Atrium Court.

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