Chow vs. Chow: Miami Beach feud food lands in federal court
By Kluger Kaplan January 23, 2012
In honor of the Chinese New Year, we give you a timely article about the feud between the Chows on Miami Beach. Filed under Food Fight.
Read the full article from the Miami Herald here.
The proprietors of two Miami Beach restaurants with similar names and menus say this town isn’t big enough for both of them. They have taken their feud to federal court.
ADAM H. BEASLEY
It’s the food fight of the century for all the egg rolls.
Chow v. Chow. Teacher versus student. Legend against upstart.
And it all goes down in a Miami federal courtroom beginning Monday, when a jury must grapple with this fundamental question: What’s in a name?
Among the potential witnesses: none other than former Miami Heat cornerstone Alonzo Mourning.
In one corner — Michael Chow, aka “Mr. Chow,” the creator and owner of the eponymous chain of upscale Chinese restaurants.
In the other — Philippe Chow, 53, a former Michael Chow disciple (and no relation) who went out on his own seven years ago. With the financial backing of restaurateur Stratis Morfogen and several famous athletes, he opened similarly swanky Asian cuisine restaurants intended to compete with Mr. Chow in New York, Los Angeles and South Beach.
The name of his growing empire: Philippe by Philippe Chow.
Confused? According to Michael Chow’s attorneys, that’s the point.
In a federal trademark infringement lawsuit, Michael Chow claims his pupil stole his restaurant’s name, its recipes and even its unique ambience in an attempt to confuse the public into thinking Philippe Chow was the original “Chow” — which is one of the most common family names in China. The suit, which depicts Philippe Chow as a fraudulent imitator whose 25 years in Mr. Chow’s kitchen were spent as little more than a glorified food chopper, seeks north of $20 million in damages.
The accused says all that is nonsense and has counter-sued on defamation grounds. Philippe Chow’s legal and financial teams claim he was a high-level chef, and along with Philippe’s mentor Sik Chung Lam, helped create Mr. Chow’s menu. As for Michael Chow, Morfogen describes him as a narcissistic celebrity front man who got rich on the backs of others.
“Michael Chow can’t boil water,” said Morfogen, who lured his star chef away from Mr. Chow’s New York location in 2005, only to open a near-replica just three blocks away. “He’s not a chef. The real story behind this lawsuit is Mr. Chow’s ego.”
Morfogen’s attorney, Anthony Accetta, plans to make that very point, with the help of a star-studded roster of witnesses.
Mourning, who along with fellow athletes Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington and Jerome Bettis is an investor in Philippe’s locations in Miami Beach and Boca Raton, is expected to testify on behalf of Philippe.
So too is hotelier Giuseppe Cipriani, the target of a similar Michael Chow lawsuit in California. Cipriani’s insult: Calling his Beverly Hills hotel and restaurant Mr. C — also too similar to “Mr. Chow” for Michael Chow’s liking.
Michael Chow, the 72-year-old Chinese expat whose father Zhou Xinfang was the famed grand master of the Beijing opera, declined comment during a break in his case’s final pre-trial hearing Wednesday.
But his attorney, Curtis B. Miner, has framed the debate as a battle for intellectual property rights, claiming that Philippe mimicking Mr. Chow’s essence and the recipes to what appear to be common Chinese dishes is tantamount to stealing the secret recipe to Coca-Cola.
While the lawsuit wasn’t filed until 2009, Michael Chow has been simmering for some time. It began when Chow learned that his old employee had teamed up with Morfogen to plan a Chinese-cuisine restaurant in New York. Alarms went off, the lawsuit states, when Michael Chow learned that his new competitor had legally changed his name from Chak Yam Chau to Philippe Chow and gave his new business the same moniker.
Read the rest of the story here.