Legal

Australian owners of Café del Mar embroiled in legal brawl

Cara Waters /

The planned expansion of Café del Mar in Australia has come to a halt after a legal dispute over the control of the local arm of the business.

The famous bar and restaurant in Ibiza which spawned an entire genre of chill-out music has one Australian outpost, Café del Mar Sydney, at Sydney’s Cockle Bay wharf.

But plans to open further Café del Mars, including one in Melbourne, have now descended into a legal brawl.  

Michael Vale claims to be the founder and majority shareholder of Café del Mar Australia, and says he plans to open another Café Del Mar in Melbourne.

But Café del Mar Australia’s managing director, John Zappia, says Vale has been removed as a director and has no authority to represent the brand.

Zappia told SmartCompany the situation was “very serious” and was now being handled by Café del Mar Sydney’s legal team.  

He says Zappia owns the master licence in Australia for Café del Mar Australia and was given the right by Ramon Guiral Broto who started Café del Mar in Ibiza.

Zappia describes Vale as “an unauthorised voice of the brand” and a “disgruntled ex-director”.

Zappia provided SmartCompany with a copy of Café del Mar’s Australian trademark registration, which is registered to Broto, and an ASIC registry search which shows Zappia as an officeholder in Café del Mar Sydney and Café del Mar Australia.

But Vale says he is “not really in dispute” with Zappia.

Vale acknowledges he may have resigned as a director but says whether he is a director or not is irrelevant as along with another shareholder, Norman Hilton, he owns 60% of Café del Mar Australia.

Vale claims Zappia owns the remaining 40%. 

Vale says in 2008 he went to Spain and met with the directors of Café del Mar in order to secure the “head franchise for the Commonwealth of Australia”.

“I met the three partners who established Café del Mar. I received the licence to build and commercialise eight Café del Mars in Australia,” he says.

Vale says Zappia is only a minority shareholder of the “franchise operation” which is Café del Mar. 

“For [Zappia] to say he has the rights to build Café del Mar in Australia and not me is simply ridiculous,” Vale says.  

“[Zappia] has invested a lot of money, he owns 100% of Café del Mar Sydney, but it is a franchise operation and I am the franchisor and he is the franchisee.”   

Vale provided SmartCompany with a copy of the licence agreement between Javier del Moral Ruiz, on behalf of Ibiza Music and Clothes, and Vale, on behalf of Café del Mar Australia, which purports to grant Café del Mar Australia the licence for the use of Café del Mar brand in Australia.

Both Vale and Zappia claim they will open a branch of Café del Mar in Melbourne.

“Café del Mar Melbourne will be a totally new entity, it will be run by a Melbourne-based marketing company and it will be spectacular,” Vale says.

But Zappia says Café del Mar will open other outlets throughout Australia but Vale is not involved in this expansion.

“We are talking to investors in Melbourne but we are trying to keep it as low key as possible,” Zappia says.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the former editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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