What's in a Restaurant Name? The Potential For Threatening Letters and Expensive Lawsuits.

Last November, Brooks Anderson and his brother Bradley, who are responsible for Veritas and Restaurant AVA, announced that, along with two other partners, they would be opening a new restaurant in the Bishop Arts District. Like restaurateurs often do, they agonized over names before eventually settling on "Left Bank." Sounds French but still approachable -- that was the logic. The new place was to have a strong wine offering and feature a casual, bistro-inspired menu.

But only a few days after sending out a news release announcing the restaurant, Brooks got a letter from the West Coast. A law firm in California claimed that their client owned rights to that name because the group owned three locations of a restaurant named "Left Bank Brasserie."

"I almost fell out of my chair," Brooks says.

As a general rule, according to Brooks, even if a restaurant owns the rights to a particular name, they can only enforce those rights within geographic proximity of where they advertise and provide services. But very little in the law is cut and dried. Contesting the cease and desist letter would have resulted in more letters and possibly time in federal court, even if the California-based group didn't have a case.

Disputes like this are common. Chosun Korean BBQ recently changed their name to Koryo Kalbi, after a restaurant in Los Angeles claimed rights to the name. Anderson and his group also decided it would be easier to just choose another name. But how do you pick one that's safe?

"Boulevardier has to our knowledge never been used by any other bar or restaurant in the U.S.," Brooks told me. The new name is based on a classic cocktail mixed with bourbon, sweet vermouth and campari.

I asked Brooks how long it would be before I could slip into his new restaurant and try one of those classic drinks. He alluded to permitting issues, but stopping short of a discussion on the details. "Whenever the gods allow it," he said.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz