Recipe for Lawsuit: Restaurant Serves Up Intellectual Property Claim

June 28, 2007

One Manhattan restaurant is serving up an intellectual property lawsuit, saying a rival seafood bar run by a former protege copies “each and every element” of its business.

Rebecca Charles, who opened the Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, is suing Ed McFarland, chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo, who was her sous-chef at Pearl for six years.

The suit, filed in federal court, seeks unspecified financial damages from McFarland and the restaurant.

It says 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.

“I would say it’s a similar restaurant,” McFarland told The New York Times, but “I would not say it’s a copy.”

Charles acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another restaurant — 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.

Charles is especially upset over a $7 appetizer on McFarland’s menu, called “Ed’s Caesar,” saying it is made from a recipe she learned from her mother.

“When I taught him, I said, ‘You will never make this anywhere else,”’ Charles told the Times.

McFarland called the dispute over the salad “a pretty ridiculous claim.”

“I have my own recipes for my items,” he said.

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