Failed BWI fast-food business owners sue over restrictive rules

March 24, 2009|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,julie.scharper@baltsun.com

A couple who opened a fast-food restaurant at BWI through a program to boost minority business ownership were forced to close because a management company's pricing and operating guidelines made it impossible to be profitable, the couple's lawyer told a jury in his opening statement Monday in a civil trial.

Marcus and Denise Beasley are suing BAA Maryland, the company that manages the retail space at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and Church's Chicken, for which they operated a franchise. They are seeking $5.5 million in damages.

"They lost everything they had invested in this business," the Beasleys' lawyer, Paul Vettori, told jurors in an Anne Arundel Circuit courtroom, adding that the couple lost their home and a rental property. "BAA forced my clients to use prices that were so low they couldn't make a profit."

But Cathy Hinger, an attorney for BAA, said the couple overestimated the volume of customers and underestimated their expenses.

"The business failed because the Beasleys were simply poor operators who did not know how to run this franchise in an airport setting," she said.

The Beasleys opened their restaurant in a newly built wing of the airport in 2005, at a time when concessions were being greatly expanded. State and airport officials wanted to increase the percentage of businesses owned by women and minorities, but many of the business owners complained that the rules set by BAA made it difficult for them to survive.

Several of the minority-owned businesses have failed, and one other company brought a lawsuit against BAA, but that case was dismissed.

Lawyers for the Beasleys also stated that the couple's efforts were hampered when Church's Chicken was sold to a Muslim-owned parent company that prevented them from selling pork sausage and bacon for breakfast.

More than a dozen boxes of documents were brought into circuit Judge Paul G. Goetzke's courtroom for the trial, which is expected to continue throughout the week.

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this report.

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