Chinese Knockoffs: Grand Sichuan Cops to Menu Copying, and New $10M Accusations Against Philippe

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In its “hometown issue,” Take the Handle runs an engrossing interview with Xiaotu Zhang, the owner of Grand Sichuan. Among other things, Zhang admits that he “copied everything from Wu Liang Ye,” the restaurant where he got his start. “The menu is more or less the same.” He also says his boss at Wu Liang Ye, who used to be a friend, “got very angry” and hasn’t spoken to him in years. Meanwhile, we have news from an even more acrimonious knockoff battle among Chinese restaurants — we’re talking, of course, about the one between Philippe and Mr. Chow.

As you know, Mr. Chow had already filed a lawsuit in Florida court alleging that Philippe Chau committed trademark infringement when he tried to mislead and lure away customers of his old place of employment, Mr. Chow, to his new restaurant, Philippe. Well, now the restaurant has enlisted entertainment lawyer Bert Fields to file another suit in California, where Philippe is opening a West Hollywood outpost. This complaint, which you can read below, asks for over $10 million and spells things out every bit as colorfully as the last one, describing how exactly Philippe Chau changed the name of Mr. Chow’s dishes when he seemingly carried them over to Philippe (a steak dish called Ma Mignon became Me Mignon and a shrimp, chicken, and liver dish called With Three became Three Within) and also insisting, contrary to Chau's assertions that he was chef at Mr. Chow, that if Chau ever cooked a dish while he was at Mr. Chow it was only for staff meals or when a chef was ill. The new suit also claims that over the years, Philippe has tried to lure away Mr. Chow’s employees by offering them “illegal compensation and benefits,” and that it is doing just that with employees at Mr. Chow’s Beverly Hills location. And in another new turn, there are accusations of harassment (via prank calls!) and property damage.

Over the years since the opening of defendants’ first restaurant, and particularly escalating since the filing of the Florida action in 2009, plaintiffs’ employees have received harassing and even threatening phone calls, including large group reservations for no-shows, bogus calls purporting to place vast and expensive takeout orders which are never picked up, and calls threatening plaintiffs’ employees with violence. In addition, over the years since defendants’ restaurants have been in business, “Mr. Chow” restaurants have been subjected to suspicious acts of property damage, such as defacing pain on a “Mr. Chow” sign. Most recently, the glass door of the Beverly Hills “Mr. Chow” restaurant was “mysteriously” and deliberately smashed.

Plaintiffs are informed and believe and, on that ground, allege that such harassment, threats and such property damage were the acts of defendants’ agents, committed at defendants’ instance and direction.

This just gets more and more twisted. With two lawsuits now in the works, it has to be asked — is Mr. Chow simply trying to run Philippe out of business by bogging them down in court?

Michael Chow et. al. vs. Philippe West Coast LLC et. al. [PDF]