Jim’s in West Philly Wins Court Battle Against Delco Jim’s Steaks

But this is one cheesesteak war that's far from over.

Cortez Johnson, the owner of West Philly cheesesteak shop Jim's West, seen in front of his shop in the days leading up to his opening

Cortez Johnson, the owner of West Philly cheesesteak shop Jim’s West

On Monday afternoon, a long line of hungry customers stretched down the block in front of Jim’s West. That’s the new cheesesteak shop on 62nd Street that replaces the region’s original Jim’s Steaks. Meanwhile, in Courtroom 446 at City Hall, a judge set out to decide the fate of Jim’s West.

Earlier this month, Carl Proetto, the owner of the Jim’s location in Springfield, Delaware County, and son of the man who owned the West Philly Jim’s for decades, filed for an emergency injunction against Jim’s West. Proetto named as defendants owner Cortez Johnson and two LLCs he’s affiliated with. Proetto was asking the court to immediately force Jim’s West to stop using the Jim’s name in any way, shape or form.

It seemed like a pretty cut-and-dry case based on the facts known before Monday’s court hearing. Proetto and his brothers, Marc and Michael, sold the Jim’s building at 431 North 62nd Street to one of Johnson’s LLCs in March. And the deed for that sale includes a very clear clause stating that nobody could ever — as in for all eternity — operate any business at that address that included “Jim’s” in its name. Case closed, right? Not so much.

During Monday’s two-hour hearing, a second document came to light. Last November, lawyers executed a separate legal agreement between the Proetto brothers and Johnson’s company. There was a similar clause over the name in that agreement. But the language of that clause was a bit different. That clause stated that Johnson couldn’t use the specific phrase “Jim’s Steaks.” And as Johnson, who represented himself at the hearing, pointed out, he’s not using the exact phrase “Jim’s Steaks.” He’s using “Jim’s West.”

Johnson told the judge that he never saw the deed, which his partner in the LLC signed. (The partner wasn’t at the hearing, and we’ve been unable to reach him.) Johnson did see and sign the other agreement and testified that he was operating with the understanding that he could open as Jim’s West and that Marc and Michael Proetto, who weren’t at the hearing and who haven’t responded to our multiple attempts to reach them, told him he could do that.

In fact, Johnson said, it was one of those very brothers who suggested the idea. He went on to suggest that somebody snuck the more stringent clause in at the last minute — a clause he, again, said he knew nothing about. The judge showed concern about the differences in language between the two documents.

“I would have never bought this if I had been told I couldn’t use the name Jim’s,” Johnson, who grew up around the corner from the original Jim’s and now lives in Delco, insisted to the judge. “I mean no disrespect to the family. I’m just trying to do good things here.”

Joe DiTomo, Carl Proetto’s attorney, called Proetto to the stand after the judge asked DiTomo what “irreparable harm” Proetto had suffered at the hands of Jim’s West. The judge explained that Pennsylvania has a “high bar” for emergency injunction demands and that the plaintiff must clearly demonstrate irreparable harm.

Proetto claimed that Johnson was using “inferior product” at Jim’s West and that this would negatively impact the Jim’s name. But the judge wasn’t impressed, since Proetto filed his court claim before Johnson had even opened Jim’s West. So how could he know whether the food was any good? Proetto also said that Johnson’s since-deleted promotional posts on Instagram weren’t on brand with the Jim’s name. The judge was similarly unmoved.

In the end, the judge declared that Proetto hadn’t met that aforementioned high bar. That decision leaves Jim’s West to do its thing on 62nd Street. At least, for now.

“What just happened?” Johnson asked me just after the hearing ended.

“You won,” I told him. He seemed surprised.

That said, DiTomo suggested near the end of the hearing that he intends to take further legal action against Jim’s West. That legal action could include a civil lawsuit alleging breach of contract over the deed, among other claims. But such a lawsuit would likely take a long time to sort out. So if you want to go try a cheesesteak at Jim’s West in the coming months, you’ll probably be able to do so. I tasted them. And they’re good!