Ed's Lobster Bar. Photo: Oscar Hidalgo/The New York Times
excerpts with commentary:
Sometimes, Rebecca Charles wishes she were a little less influential.
She was, she asserts, the first chef in New York who took lobster rolls, fried clams and other sturdy utility players of New England seafood cookery and lifted them to all-star status on her menu. Since opening Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, she has ruefully watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers "knockoffs" of her own.
Yesterday she filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the latest and, she said, the most brazen 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.
The suit, which seeks unspecified financial damages 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. [...]
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. Some legal experts believe the number of cases will grow as chefs begin to think more like chief executives.
Glossing the article my eye stops here:
Charles Valauskas, a lawyer in Chicago who represents a number of restaurants and chefs in intellectual property matters, called their discovery of intellectual property law "long overdue" and attributed it to greater competition as well as the high cost of opening a restaurant.
hey, more jobs for lawyers;
"Now the stakes are so high," he said. "The average restaurant can be millions of dollars. If I were an investor I'd want to do something to make sure my investment is protected."
Ms. Charles's investment was modest. She built Pearl Oyster Bar for about $120,000 — a cost that in today's market qualifies as an early-bird special.
it always boils down to the smell of money, or so it seems;
She acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another narrow, unassuming place, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco. But she said she had spent many months making hundreds of small decisions about her restaurant's look, feel and menu.
So she acknowledges she was influenced by a pre-existing "narrow, unassuming" place, but there's always a "but"...
Those decisions made the place her own, she said, and were colored by her history. The paint scheme, for instance, was meant to evoke the seascape along the Maine coast where she spent summers as a girl.
"My restaurant is a personal reflection of me, my experience, my family," she said. "That restaurant is me." [emphasis mine]
Really? And where does she think she comes from? direct from heaven?
Even worse is this...What a hypocrite:
But the detail that seems to gnaw at her most is a $7 appetizer on Mr. McFarland's menu: "Ed's Caesar."
(nice use of "gnaw"...)
She learned it from her mother, who extracted it decades ago from the chef at a long-gone Los Angeles restaurant. It became a kind of signature at Pearl. And although she taught Mr. McFarland how to make it, she said she had guarded the recipe more closely than some restaurateurs watch their wine cellars.
Yikes. It is really all about money, with a smoke screen of sentimentality sown as a public relations ploy...
Fred Benenson of Free Culture @ NYU comments:
The entire premise of the article itself is fallacious -- the
restaurant owner is intending to sue over "intellectual property
rights" without really specifying what those are (copyright, patent,
trademark). Moreover, the journalist implies that "intellectual
property" rights exist as an actual atom of law which can be litigated
over, something that is not the case.
Furthermore, what isn't made clear (and what I'm sure Tim Wu went to pains to make sure they understood) is that recipes nor ideas can be owned like property, or even copyrighted. Though another chef mentions this, it's dishonest and misleading for the journalist not to properly include these facts.
I'm working on a letter to the editor...