Food & Drink

Chinese-restaurant food fight that started in Miami sizzles to a legal end

Chef Xiao Lei Shao cooks at Mr Chow restaurant in the W Hotel in South Beach in this July 2010 photo.
Chef Xiao Lei Shao cooks at Mr Chow restaurant in the W Hotel in South Beach in this July 2010 photo.

A six-year food fight that started between two high-end Chinese restaurants in Miami Beach has ended flatter than a scallion pancake.

A federal appeals court this week ordered restaurant Mr Chow, which operates a location at the W South Beach, to fork over $1 million in attorney fees and costs to rival restaurant group Philippe Chow. The ruling comes almost four years after a federal court in Miami awarded $1 million in damages to Mr Chow for claims of false advertising and unfair competition against Philippe Chow.

In other words, the epic battle of Chow v. Chow came out as a wash.

Here’s how the suit sizzled out:

▪ In 2009, Mr Chow founder Michael Chow and his partners sued Philippe Chow Restaurants and its primary backer, Stratis Morfogen, for more than $20 million on grounds of trademark infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, false advertising and unfair competition.

Michael Chow claimed that Morfogen poached a longtime cook from Mr Chow’s kitchen named Chak Yam Chau, who then changed his name to Philippe Chow. Morfogen and Philippe Chow, the chef, opened a series of restaurants called Philippe by Philippe Chow, with food and decor similar to Mr Chow.

At the time, Mr Chow and Philippe by Philippe Chow had competing restaurants within blocks of each other in New York. Philippe by Philippe Chow also had a restaurant in South Beach, a stone’s throw from where Mr Chow would open at 2201 Collins Ave. (Mr Chow remains in operation here; Philippe closed in 2013.)

▪ Philippe Chow filed a $25 million countersuit for defamation and other claims, which a court rejected.

▪ In 2012, a federal court in Miami sided with Mr Chow on its complaints of false advertising and unfair competition, ordering Philippe Chow and Morfogen to pay $1 million in compensation to Michael Chow and his partners. The court did not find merit in Mr Chow’s claims of trademark infringement or stealing trade secrets.

Both sides claimed victory after the verdict, with Morfogen boasting that his restaurant had prevailed on the bulk of the charges against it. “It’s like being tried for murder and being convicted of jaywalking,” he said to the Miami Herald at the time.

▪ Because Philippe Chow was found not to be liable for most of the claims Mr Chow lobbed in its lawsuit, a federal judge in Florida ruled that Mr Chow should pay the other side’s attorney fees and court costs. Mr Chow appealed the decision, and on Tuesday, a three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“I hope this sends a message: Don’t harass other people with lawsuits, because ultimately you could be the one paying,” Anthony Accetta, attorney for Philippe Chow, said to Law360, which first reported this week’s decision.

Evan S. Benn is Miami Herald food editor: 305-376-4624, @EvanBenn