A federal judge has ruled that the current owner of the Camellia Grill restaurant also is the rightful possessor of the popular Riverbend eatery’s name, despite claims from its former owner that the name and other trademarks were not transferred in a sale nearly nine years ago.
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled Friday that Uptown Grill LLC owns the rights to the name “Camellia Grill” and that its continued use of the name on restaurant properties does not constitute a violation of any trademark laws.
The nearly 70-year-old diner at 626 S. Carrollton Ave. has been popular for generations with college students, Uptown residents and tourists. It is known for its menu of comfort foods, such as oversized omelettes and cheeseburgers, served at a counter by outgoing waiters who often banter with customers and one another.
Uptown Grill LLC filed suit in December 2013 against the former owner, Camellia Grill Holdings Inc., and that company’s head, Michael Shwartz. In its suit, Uptown Grill asked the court to declare it the rightful owner of any “recipes, trademarks, names, logos, likenesses, etc.” as well as any property located inside the diner when it was sold in August 2006.
Uptown Grill, owned by Byblos owner Hickam Khodr, executed a bill of sale with Shwartz that year for the “tangible personal property located within or upon” the restaurant, according to court documents. The building itself was sold to a different Khodr-owned company, RANO LLC, at the same time.
Uptown Grill maintained that as a result of the sale, it became the owner of the restaurant’s name, in part because it appears on the logo and signage that the company purchased.
Shwartz contended that the restaurant name was not sold as part of the transaction and that the restaurant had been allowed to continue operating as Camellia Grill only because of a licensing agreement.
That agreement, which led to the opening of a second Camellia Grill location in 2010 in the French Quarter, was terminated in 2013 after trial and appeals court judges ruled that Khodr had violated the terms of the deal by altering the Camellia Grill logo and failing to pay Shwartz royalties.
As a result of that order, the French Quarter location has featured a new logo and, since 2013, has been known as The Grill.
Khodr said he has not decided if the French Quarter restaurant will resume the Camellia Grill name.
“The judgment is clear,” Khodr said. “We own the logo. We own the name. We own everything right now. It is up to me if I want to change it.”
Before Uptown Grill filed its lawsuit, Shwartz had threatened to sue the company for trademark infringement.
In her judgment, Milazzo said the bill of sale is “clear, unambiguous and enforceable as written.”
She said the bill of sale gives Uptown Grill rights to all Camellia Grill trademarks that were on file with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when the transaction was completed. The company is not in violation of trademark laws, she said.