Rebecca Charles, chef-owner of Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City and subject of an incredibly lively discussion on Serious Eats, is mad as hell and she's not going to take it any more. She's suing her most recent imitator, Ed McFarland, her former sous-chef of six years, for purposefully stealing her concept, menu, and look and feel in opening his own restaurant, Ed's Lobster Bar, less than a mile from Pearl.
"I've looked the other way for years," Rebecca said. "I understand that chefs take dishes from the restaurants they worked in when they open their own restaurants. But Ed's Lobster Bar is much more than a knock-off. It's an exact duplicate of Pearl. Thirty-one of the 34 dishes on his menu are simply lifted from Pearl. The stools, the look and feel of the place, everything is exactly the same. It's offensive. Plus he lied to me. He told me and the staff when he quit that he was leaving to open an Italian seafood restaurant. I said great. I even offered to help him. Then, six weeks later, he opens Ed's."
In the restaurant world this suit is groundbreaking stuff. Songwriters are sued for stealing lyrics and melodies, screenwriters and movie studios are often accused of stealing treatments (remember when Art Buchwald sued Eddie Murphy?), but as far as I know this is the first time a chef-restaurateur is suing a former employee and accusing him of stealing everything but the toilet paper.
McFarland refused to comment about the suit, telling the New York Times that he hadn't yet seen the paperwork. In what could only be called a serious expression of chutzpah, he told the Times: "I would say it's a similar restaurant. I would not say it's a copy."
Charles knows that many people in and out of the restaurant business will think that she's nuts for doing this. But even though she knows that this is going to be time- and emotion-consuming, not to mention expensive, Charles thinks the time is right for a chef to take a stand on this long-simmering issue: "I'm not trying to be a saint here, but I do feel that by doing this now I am going to be helping a lot of other chefs in the present and future when this happens to them. But obviously that's not the only reason I'm suing Ed. This guy is making money off my back, money that I don't have. I don't have a lot of restaurants. I only have one. I think Pearl Oyster Bar has made a meaningful contribution to food and restaurants in New York, and I'm going to do what I have to do to protect what I have built."