Several weeks back, our etiquette columnist reported that Rebecca Charles, owner of Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC’s West Village, was hoppin’ mad at her former sous-chef Ed McFarland for supposedly stealing Charles’ mom’s Caesar salad recipe and putting it on the menu at his Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo.
Now Charles is suing McFarland for allegedly ripping off this and other features from Pearl, reports the New York Times. Among the reputedly purloined concepts: “the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting,” and even—gasp!—the same oyster crackers “placed at each table setting.”
Those who had seen or eaten at both restaurants, including writers from New York Magazine, who wrote up the fracas on the mag’s blog, Grub Street, agreed that Ed’s is shockingly similar to Pearl (check out these damning photos on Eater—they even have nearly identical chairs!). But the idea that Charles could claim that her recipes and décor were original enough to be considered intellectual property struck many as disingenuous. After all, Charles openly admits that San Francisco’s Swan Oyster
Depot was the inspiration for Pearl (it, too, has a marble counter and serves oyster crackers), and that she took design inspiration from summers in Maine.
“So is Charles really innovative? And taking the ambiance of a seafood shack? They’ve been around for decades—as have other places,” writes Erik Sherman on the blog Flash in the Pan.
Homaro Cantu of Moto restaurant in Chicago requires that his chefs sign a nondisclosure agreement, and has patented his edible paper, among other dishes. We’re clearly living in an era when high-profile chefs better at least try to look original. We just hope that if Charles wins, some über–bagel shop won’t try to come after every competitor selling an eggwich. There’s a comfort, sometimes, in sameness.