Chef Sues Over Intellectual Property (the Menu)
By PETE WELLS
Published: June 27, 2007 (accessed June 27, 2007, New York Times online)
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.
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.”
Lawyers for Ms. Charles, 53, said that what Ed’s Lobster Bar had done amounted
to theft of her intellectual property — the kind of claim more often seen in
publishing and entertainment, or among giant restaurant chains protecting their
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