A longtime Tucson restaurant owner claims the University of Arizona treated him unfairly, and is seeking $110,000 in damages.
Albert Vasquez, owner of El Saguarito restaurant, said the UA acted in “bad faith” when it terminated his contract to serve Mexican food at UA football and basketball games. In a notice of claim filed with the Arizona Board of Regents, Vasquez lays much of the blame at the feet of the marketing firm hired by the UA, Wildcat IMG Sports Marketing.
UA fans ate food prepared by El Saguarito during the 2014-15 season, with Vasquez hearing only compliments from UA officials and fans, said Vasquez’s lawyer, Todd Hale.
The contract was for one year with the option to renew for three additional years. But on April 24, Vasquez was “completely blindsided” by a two-sentence letter terminating the contract without explanation, Hale said, noting the letter came after the April 1 cutoff date for either side to back out of the contract.
The UA and IMG “have inexplicably chosen to play dirty with one of its most ardent supporters,” Hale wrote in the Oct. 2 notice of claim, a precursor to a civil lawsuit Hale said he plans to file in Pima County Superior Court this week.
“The UA and IMG’s treatment of El Saguarito and Mr. Vasquez was wrong. IMG’s bait-and-switch tactics in particular are outrageous,” Hale wrote.
Vasquez served Mexican food at UA events from 1993 to 2005, when El Charro took over. An IMG representative, Joe Moeller, regularly visited El Saguarito, and urged Vasquez to submit a bid for the 2014-15 season, Hale wrote.
But Vasquez balked at submitting a bid when Moeller asked vendors to pay IMG a minimum $25,000 marketing fee, a request Vasquez had never heard previously from the UA.
After coming to an informal agreement with IMG that did not include the $25,000 fee, Vaquez submitted a bid that included $7,500 in food trade. Moeller came back to El Saguarito and asked Vasquez to raise the fee he pays to the UA from $1,320 to $2,000 per football game and from $880 per basketball game to $1,500.
A UA official echoed Moeller’s request, and Vasquez said he reluctantly agreed to the raised fees. He was selected as the vendor a few weeks before the first football game of the season.
The contract did not require payment of separate marketing fees to IMG, Hale wrote, but Moeller asked Vasquez for a “sizable cash donation” in September 2014.
Vasquez offered more food trade credits, but Moeller declined. Vasquez “felt he had no choice,” and agreed to pay IMG $4,000 and a $500 catering credit, Hale wrote.
Three weeks later, Moeller asked Vasquez to pay a $4,000 advertising fee for a 30-second announcement before nonconference basketball games and another $4,000 advertising fee for conference games. Vasquez said he couldn’t afford the expense.
“Mr. Vasquez believes that his refusal to pay still more additional marketing fees caused Mr. Moeller to seek to retaliate against El Saguarito,” Hale wrote.
Concerned about souring his relationship with the UA, Vasquez asked a UA concessions official whether refusing to pay the marketing fee would jeopardize the contract. He was assured it was not a problem.
Neither the Arizona Board of Regents nor IMG have responded to Vasquez since the claim was filed, Hale said.
A spokeswoman for the Board of Regents declined to comment on the notice of claim, as did a spokesman for the UA.
A spokesman for IMG also did not respond to a request for comment.
Now, Vasquez is asking to be made whole on the $28,000 he spent buying equipment and the $36,000 in annual profits he expected to earn in the following three years.
In addition, the “curtaining off” of his booth at UA women’s basketball games, which effectively hid the El Saguarito booth from view, drastically cut his per-game sales from about $4,000 to about $150. Vasquez wants the UA to reimburse him for $10,000 in lost profits.
Vasquez said he would settle claims against the UA for $100,000 and $10,000 in attorney’s fees.
The notice also states the cancellation of the contract may have been hastened by an April event Vasquez hosted for Arizona State University athletics boosters in Tucson.