Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Saga Continues . . . Chinese Food Restaurants Battle For World Domination

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Mr. Chow has been a Hollywood institution for decades. Its sleek decor and Peking duck attracts A-listers and power-brokers on a daily basis.

The tony restaurant chain, which started in London, now has outposts in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.
Similarly themed, but less established, is Philippe or Philippe Chow. It shares a surname with the famous restaurant, as well as a similarly posh aesthetic and high-end menu. It, too, has outposts in New York and Los Angeles.

In this case, any imitation is not being treated as flattery by Michael Chow, the art collector and restaurateur behind the original Mr. Chow chain.

Three years ago, he slapped Philippe Chow with a $10 million lawsuit, alleging, among other things, that his former employee ripped off his recipes and changed his name so he would be more closely identified with the restaurateur. The case will go to trial in Miami federal court on Tuesday, with high-powered showbiz litigator Bert Fields representing Michael Chow.
Philippe Chow, who changed his name from Chak Yam Chau before starting the restaurant, fired back with a countersuit charging defamation. The trial is expected to last three weeks, with Michael Chow planning to take the stand next week.

"Michael Chow is one of the great restaurateurs of our age," Fields told TheWrap. "Mister Chow is famous the world over. It pains me to see this man whose name wasn't even Chow copy his restaurant and profit by taking all of those recipes that Michael created. I believe a judge and jury will see things our way and that Michael will come out of this trial just fine."

The suit also accuses Philippe Chow of misrepresenting his past association with the original chain of chi-chi eateries. It alleges that, contrary to Philippe Chow's claims he served as the executive chef of Mr. Chow for over 25 years, he was nothing more than a chopper in the kitchen who rarely cooked.

Philippe Chow and his business partners Stratis Morfogen, David Lee, Costin Dumitrescu and Manny Hailey are named as defendants in the suit.

In an interview with TheWrap, Morfogen lashed out at Michael Chow, accusing him of trying to muddy the waters for his former chef and now competitor. He told TheWrap that the chain is countersuing the restaurateur for defamation.

"If Michael Chow owns lettuce wraps then his next lawsuit should be against P.F. Chang's," Morfogen said.
"We believe the case is meritless," he added. "We believe in the judicial system, and we're not looking to settle -- certainly not with the conditions Chow is looking for."

He said that all of the recipes for the 12 "signature" dishes that the suit claims were stolen -- such as Chicken Satay and Chicken Joanna -- are commonplace in Chinese cooking. He also claims that Philippe Chow did not sign any confidentiality agreements that would bar cooking the same food.

He also stringently refutes the suit's claims that Philippe Chow lacks restaurant experience.

"They called him a food chopper," Morfogen told TheWrap. "Well how does the food chopper beat him every year in Zagat?"

Attorneys for Mr. Chow paint a starkly different picture, alleging that Philippe Chow did indeed sign confidentiality agreements related to the recipes.

But the dispute is about more than just recipes for green prawns, according to the suit.

"Defendants directed their staff to misrepresent that the Defendants' restaurants were in fact Mr. Chow Restaurants or that they were associated or affiliated with the Mr Chow Restaurants, and that the fictitious 'Philippe Chow' (played by Defendant Chau) was 'Chef Chow' of the famous Mr. Chow restaurants, or that he was the son or brother of the real Mr. Chow," the suit reads.

It claims that Morfogen has a pattern of trading on the name and profile of well-established restaurants and has been sued for the practice before. Morfogen opened a restaurant in New York City called "Sea Grill of the Aegean" and was sued by the owners of Rockefeller Center's "Sea Grill" in 1997.

He admitted to TheWrap that he settled the case and agreed to take Grill out of the restaurant's name.
"They paid us to change the name and we settled," Morfogen told TheWrap.

Mr. Chow has six locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Las Vegas, and London. The original eatery opened in London in 1968, with the Beverly Hills outpost following in 1974.

Philippe Chow launched in 2005 and has established outposts in West Hollywood, Boca Raton, Fla., Miami Beach, New York City, Jericho, N.Y., and Mexico City.

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