The split between chefs Alon Shaya and John Besh has moved from the dining room to the courthouse.
Attorneys for Shaya Restaurant LLC filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court against its namesake chef, Alon Shaya. The restaurant is seeking a judgment to protect the trademark Shaya.
According to court documents, the move comes after Alon Shaya filed a federal trademark request for the name Shaya and, through attorneys, sent Shaya Restaurant a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the restaurant change its name.
The restaurant is now asking the court to declare “that Shaya Restaurant’s continued use of the Shaya trademark does not infringe the trademark or trade dress rights claimed by the defendants.”
Asked to respond to the lawsuit, Alon Shaya said in a statement that he was “shocked and saddened that my former partners would take such an action."
“Shaya is not just the name on the front door,” he said. “It is my culinary and family heritage and a culmination of my life’s work. The recipes and experiences that make Shaya restaurant so unique come from my mother and grandmother and a deep tradition of Israeli cooking and hospitality. The idea that they would claim that history as a matter of commerce and trademark is deeply disturbing, and I will fight to protect my family name and heritage.”
In September, however, Shaya and Besh’s group split. He has since said he hopes to buy Shaya Restaurant from his previous partners.
Earlier this month, Alon Shaya launched a new culinary company called Pomegranate Hospitality, which announced this week that Zach Engel, chef de cuisine at Shaya Restaurant, was joining the company as culinary director, along with the restaurant's former general manager Sean Courtney, who is now the company's operations director.
Pomegranate Hospitality does not yet operate any restaurants, but Alon Shaya has indicated that will change, one way or another.
“My No. 1 goal is to have an opportunity to buy Shaya restaurant,” he said in an interview earlier this week with The Advocate. “But no matter what happens, we’ll be opening up something in town, and we’ll be cooking Israeli food again here as a team.”
Alon Shaya won the James Beard Foundation's regional award for Best Chef: South in 2015. In 2016, the restaurant Shaya won the national award for Best New Restaurant in 2016. Engel won the group’s national award for Rising Star Chef of the Year this spring.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows an application dated Sept. 18, 2017, from Chef Alon Shaya LLC for the name Shaya. An application for "Alon Shaya" was filed the same day, also by Chef Alon Shaya LLC.
But in their filing, attorneys for Shaya Restaurant, assert that the restaurant "was first to use the mark 'Shaya' in commerce and has continued to do so in connection with its restaurant since 2014."
The attorneys write that the restaurant is owned by Besh and Octavio Mantilla, his longtime business partner in Besh Restaurant Group, or BRG. They also lay out the company's view of how Shaya Restaurant became an award-winning dining destination.
“BRG has been able to attract talented and aspiring cooks from around the country to train under Chef John Besh and the growing number of award-winning chefs within the BRG family of restaurants. A number of those chefs have gone on to open restaurants in collaboration with BRG. With the resources of BRG, these restaurants have generated significant interest prior to their highly anticipated and successful openings to rave reviews by guests and critics alike," according to the filing.
“Due to BRG’s extensive marketing efforts, the opening of Shaya was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in years. BRG built a sustained public relations campaign nationwide for Shaya lasting well into the 2016 awards season in which Shaya won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Additionally, Bon Appetit named Shaya one of the top 50 new restaurants in America, and Food and Wine named it as one of the top 10 new U.S. restaurants.”
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