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Battle over food menu

Written by Steph Mekwuye on 03 July 2007

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Since the opening of Pearl Oyster Bar by Rachel Charles in the West Village 10 years ago, the chef watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers “knockoffs” of her own. She was the first chef in New York who took over lobster rolls, Fried calms and other players of new England seafood cookery.

In particular she was most appalled by one of her imitators Ed Mcfarland chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in Soho and her sous-chef at Pearl for six years. She recently filed a suit against him seeking financial damage from Mr. McFarland and the restaurant itself, charges that Ed’s Lobster Bar copies “each and every element” of Pearl Oyster Bar, including the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting, the chairs and bar stools with their wheat-straw backs, the packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting and the dressing on the Caesar salad. 

Mr. McFarland would not comment on the complaint, saying that he had not seen it yet. But he said that Ed’s Lobster Bar, which opened in March, was no imitator. “I would say it’s a similar restaurant,” he said, “I would not say it’s a copy.”

Rachel’s lawyers said that what Ed’s Lobster Bar had done amounted to theft of her intellectual property.

In recent years, a handful of chefs and restaurateurs have invoked intellectual property concepts, including trademarks, patents and trade dress — the distinctive look and feel of a business — to defend their restaurants, their techniques and even their recipes, but most have stopped short of a courtroom.

The Pearl Oyster Bar suit may be the most aggressive use of those concepts by the owner of a small restaurant.

Is this the beginning of lawsuits by famous chefs?

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