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Philippe Chow vs. Mr. Chow: I Think Mr. Has a Point

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The long awaited legal battle between Michael Chow (Mr. Chow) and Philippe Chow (Philippe by Philippe Chow) began in a Miami federal courtroom on Monday. Mr. Michael Chow is seeking over $20 million in damages for trademark infringement. I'll leave it up to the lawyers to hash out the legalities, but let me add my two cents: I think Philippe Chow took things too far.

Philippe's real name is Chak Yam Chau. You might suppose that "Chau" was close enough, but Chak changed it to Philippe Chow. Chau -- er, Chow had worked 25 years in Mr. Chow's kitchen. Mr. Chow at this point was renowned (and still is) for a string of upscale Chinese restaurants that drew the elite and famous. Philippe Chow (with partner Stratis Morfogen and others) opened an upscale Chinese restaurant three blocks away from Mr. Chow's New York venue in 2005. And opened another Philippe by Philippe Chow in Los Angeles to compete with Mr. Chow's Beverly Hills flagship spot, and then opened a third Philippe in the Gansevoort Miami -- just a block away from Mr. Chow in the W South Beach (Philippe has since moved to the South-of-Fifth neighborhood). The decor is equally swank in both places, and the prices are jacked up at each venue in a similarly obscene manner.

So to wrap up, Chak Chau worked for his competitor, changed his name to that of his competitor, and then opened a few restaurants nearby those of his competitor using a similar culinary concept, pricing structure, and decorative scheme. It seems to me that the only way the folks at Philippe could have confused customers more is if they snuck out in the middle of the night and switched signage at the two restaurants. It is the chicken satay, however, that makes me think maybe Philippe went too far.

"[Michael Chow] didn't invent Peking Duck, didn't invent chicken satay, didn't invent sauteed beef," says Mr. Morfogen. "These are traditional Chinese recipes that have been around for thousands of years."

Peking duck? Check. Sauteed beef? Check. Chicken satay? Well, most food historians believe satays to have derived from Indonesia. Folks from Malaysia can make an argument as well, but China has never laid claim to this particular street snack. That's why one rarely sees chicken satay on American Chinese restaurant menus. And yet chicken satay was a signature item at Mr. Chow and Philippe put it on his own menus (same price: $5). This suggests to me that Philippe just didn't know when to stop.

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