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Sue Over the Salad June 27, 2007

Posted by tkcollier in Business, Food.

Rival’s $7 salad makes New York restaurant owner see red | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited
Lower Manhattan, New York, which has long regarded itself as the world’s ultimate trend factory, has spawned a new pastime that could spread like wildfire through America and beyond: suing over the culinary equivalent of plagiarism.

Rebecca Charles, the creator and owner of the wildly popular Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village, this week lodged a legal suit with the New York courts that charges her former sous-chef with taking her menu and interior styling and recreating it nearby.

Ed McFarland is accused of copying “each and every element” of his previous workplace when he opened Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo three months ago.

Nobody disputes the two eateries have qualities in common. The New Yorker wrote this month that the Pearl Oyster Bar had spawned so many offspring that “lower Manhattan seems to be turning into one giant retrofitted clambake”.

But the legal action, one of the first in which a restaurant owner has gone to court over intellectual property, has opened up a veritable can of lobster tails over when culinary influences stray into imitation.

Ms Charles openly acknowledged her debt to other culinary traditions when she opened in the Village in 1997. It was the first clam shack in Manhattan, and she drew on her memories of the food she ate as a child on New England beach holidays — Maine lobster rolls, fried oyster rolls, chowders and blueberry pie. She also pays homage to the Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco that she says inspired her to open her restaurant.

But Ms Charles argues that she drew on these influences to create an eating experience that was wholly her own.

What she did not do is beam up the ingredients of a successful restaurant, from menu to marble bar tops and wainscoting, and transport them unchanged to a new venue, as she alleges Mr McFarland, who worked for her for six years, has done. “My restaurant is a personal reflection of me, my experience, my family. That restaurant is me,” she told the New York Times.

To which Mr McFarland replied of his outlet: “I would say it’s a similar restaurant. I would not say it’s a copy.”

What seems to have upset Ms Charles in particular is Ed’s Caesar, a $7 (£3.50) salad that she alleges in the legal action was taken from her own recipe. But Ms Charles acquired the recipe from her mother, who, in turn, wheedled it out of a chef in Los Angeles.

Expect to hear from his lawyers, sometime soon.


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