Jonathan Vilma in Middle of Legal Battle With Miami Marlins Over Brother Jimmy's BBQ Stand

Marlins claim restaurant breached sponsorship agreement, Vilma and restaurant say team botched food stand

By Brian Hamacher
|  Friday, Sep 6, 2013  |  Updated 5:02 AM EDT
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New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma

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NFL star and Miami native Jonathan Vilma is in the middle of a legal battle with the Miami Marlins, claiming the team failed to live up to its promises and mismanaged a concession stand related to his barbecue restaurant.

The Saints linebacker, who is a co-owner of the Brother Jimmy's BBQ franchise in Miami, and the team have filed lawsuits against each other in Miami-Dade over the failed stand at Marlins Park.

The Marlins' lawsuit, filed in June, claims Brother Jimmy's breached a sponsorship agreement with the team and failed to pay $75,000 in sponsorship fees for the 2012 season. It also claims Brother Jimmy's didn't give the Marlins 60 days' notice that they were terminating the agreement for 2013.

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"Brother Jimmy's failure to pay the 2012 and 2013 Sponsorship Fee is a material breach of the Sponsorship agreement," the Marlins' lawsuit reads. "Brother Jimmy's has been unjustly enriched at the expense of Marlins."

Brother Jimmy's says they never reached an official sponsorship agreement, but they allowed the team to prepare and sell their food at a discount under the Brother Jimmy's name. The restaurant claims the team botched the food stand so badly it had to be shut down.

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"We did voice our concerns and we actually personally went there, we went to the games and we wouldn't let them know who we were, we'd go and taste our own food and we'd tell them look, 'this food is not to our standards,'" Vilma said during an appearance Wednesday on the Kup & Crowder Show on 560 WQAM. "It hurts us as a business because if for the first time a fan goes to Marlins stadium, they taste Brother Jimmy's, they say 'this food is terrible,' and all they're gonna remember is the bad food and or service that they got at the Marlins stadium and we expected better than that."

Vilma, 31, along with Chicago Bears linebacker D.J. Williams and Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, opened their Brother Jimmy's restaurant at Mary Brickell Village last year. All three are alumni of the University of Miami. Other Brother Jimmy's restaurants are located in New York, New Jersey and even in Yankee Stadium.  

Brother Jimmy's claims they paid $25,000 to the Marlins in good faith, even though they never reached an official agreement.

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"The service wasn't good and we're trying to build a name for ourselves and the Marlins and Levy group, the food company they're using, was putting out a bad product and it kind of was opposite of what we were expecting," Vilma said. "We expected something similar to the Yankees, where they put out a good product, what they sell you and what they market to you, what you're paying for is what you're gonna get.

"Unfortunately it just wasn't the case with the Marlins, they didn't sell us, actually they oversold us like they've done a few times now."

"The Marlins disagree with Mr. Vilma’s reason the Brother Jimmy’s stand is no longer at Marlins Park, however we prefer not to comment due to the pending litigation," the team said in a statement Thursday.

Phone calls to Levy Restaurants, which is based in Chicago and operates concessions in stadiums and arenas across the country, weren't immediately returned Thursday.

Brother Jimmy's and Vilma also claim the Marlins made promises that attendance for the new ballpark would average 28,000 per game for the 2012 season, a mark that wasn't hit.

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"They unfortunately sold us a dream, the attendance wasn't what they were marketing to us, it was probably a fraction of that," Vilma said.
  
The Marlins came in 18th out of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball in 2012, despite opening their brand new, $600 million ballpark. So far in 2013, they're last in the league in attendance.

Brother Jimmy's claims the team also promised 40 non-baseball events at the stadium that were never held. Vilma said issues with bad service and bad food weren't rectified.

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"This is huge for our brand, for our concept, for our food and they heard us but they won't really listen. It's the same old 'oh we're sorry, we're gonna do our best to make up for this, etcetera, etcetera, and instead, we got nothing, we got the same issues, the same complaints and the same problems," he said. "The next step for us, they filed suit, we filed a counterclaim and we let them know, the things that they tried to minimize in our suit is something that's very serious to our brand. Our food is our brand, the only way people are gonna want to enjoy or come to Brother Jimmy's is for the food and for the atmosphere."

Brother Jimmy's is seeking to get back the $25,000 they paid to the team plus damages.

"We can't have a one off in the Marlins stadium being the worst place to go for Brother Jimmy's and on top of that being one of the newer locations and a more visible location within Miami," Vilma said. "Hopefully we'll get it rectified. As I said, it's an unfortunate situation, they oversold us, I think we all know the Marlins have been doing a good job of that the past couple years."

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