I visited both Ed's Lobster Bar and Pearl Oyster Bar yesterday, in search of a glimmer of sanity and truth in what is obviously a sea of resentment and betrayal. I found out that, yes, Ed's uses the same toilet paper as Pearl. And that he makes a good lobster roll with thicker french fries than Pearl's. And that, yes, his Caesar salad does have English muffin croutons, just like Pearl's. And that Pearl's fried oyster roll is so deliciously crunchy, crisp, and briny I could have it every day for lunch.
But I also found a beleaguered Ed McFarland, in way over his head as he tries to make sense of all this. McFarland held a press conference in which (according to Grub Street) he said the following: "I believe her action has no merit. I harbor no ill will and wish her safely to port." His lawyer, Alan Serrins, followed with the following bit of disingenuousness: "I didn't know Caesar salad and lobsters are protected under the intellectual-property laws."
I found an energized and agonized Rebecca Charles feeling she had made her point in suing not-so-poor Ed.
What are we to take away from this situation? What do we really know? Charles feels betrayed and violated by McFarland. He was her right-hand man for six years, with complete and unfettered access to her creativity, recipes, craftsmanship, and even the combination to her safe. Charles is a smart, fiercely independent, tough-minded chef and businessperson who misplaced her trust when she gave her chief lieutenant all that access. McFarland, bereft of his own ideas, decided to open what is, for all intents and purposes, a clone of Pearl.
I have no idea how this will play out in court. I am not a lawyer specializing in intellectual property. But what we are witnessing is a culinary divorce being played out in the public eye. And who's going to benefit if Charles does win? I suppose chef-restaurateurs will feel that their former employees can't just copy their concepts when they open their own places. Charles might end up with some money and a keen sense of vindication. But in the end, nobody is going to win, except maybe (once again) the lawyers. Ed McFarland will still be an unimaginative schnook (which in and of itself is not a crime) with or without his own restaurant. Charles will continue to serve terrific food at Pearl while she hopefully gains closure, moves on, and ponders her next move.
This fight is not about diners enjoying unfettered access to delectable lobster rolls and Caesar salads. It's about a violation of trust, resentment, and betrayal behind the counter and the stove at a couple of restaurants in New York.