City Barbeque chain sues Ohio City BBQ in Cleveland to force name change and take profits

CLEVELAND, Ohio – City Barbeque, a Columbus-based restaurant chain with more than 50 locations in eight states, has sued the Ohio City BBQ in Cleveland to force the restaurant to change its name and donate part of its profits .

Lawyers for City Barbeque, which in May filed a trademark infringement action against Ohio City BBQ, filed an amended lawsuit this month that the owners of the autonomous Cleveland joint conspired to defame the channel by asking someone to ‘one to post a pseudonymous online review of each of the channel’s locations. which mentioned the trial.

City Barbeque wants a chance to convince a jury in the United States District Court in Cleveland that Ohio City BBQ should pay the chain actual and punitive damages, court costs, attorney fees and “profits from” the sale of counterfeit goods and / or services ”.

City Barbeque is the owner of the trademarks of the name “City Barbeque” and of two logos bearing the name. However, he does not claim to own a “City BBQ” trademark, according to court documents. The restaurant chain didn’t expand to Cleveland until 2019, two years after Ohio City BBQ first lit its smoker on Lorain Avenue in the Ohio City neighborhood.

Still, the chain accused Ohio City BBQ of continuing to “deliberately mislead customers” into believing the two restaurants are affiliated. As proof of his claim, the lawsuit says some customers called City Barbeque thinking they were calling Ohio City BBQ.

The lawsuit also cites potential confusion over the apps and websites of third-party food suppliers that exploded during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a result of the Ohio City BBQ misconduct, City Barbeque’s goodwill has been damaged,” the lawsuit said.

US District Judge James S. Gwinn is overseeing the trial.

Ohio City BBQ owner Nav Singh did not return a voicemail message seeking comment.

Holiday Banta, an attorney with the Indianapolis-based Ice Miller law firm that represents City Barbeque, said in a statement that the chain “has built nationwide goodwill in its CITY BARBEQUE brands for 22 years and is taking very seriously the efforts of third parties to take advantage of this long-standing goodwill.

“City Barbeque informed Ohio City BBQ of City Barbeque’s CITY BARBEQUE brands early on to help Ohio City BBQ avoid consumer confusion. Ohio City BBQ instead decided to go ahead with its business name with full awareness of the potential for consumer confusion with City Barbeque, ”said Banta. “The trial will examine the effect of confusing consumers.”

Singh, originally from Toronto, previously told that he moved to Cleveland with the dream of opening a pizza place, but fell in love with American barbecue. He traveled the country to attend barbecue competitions, found a pitmaster, bought a building in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, and opened Ohio City BBQ in May 2017.

City Barbeque founder and CEO Rick Malir, originally from Kansas City, opened the first restaurant in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington in 1999 after serving in his garage, he said in a video on the site. Company web. The chain, now headquartered in Dublin, first registered its name in 2005 and has expanded to 53 branches in eight states, from Wisconsin to Florida.

Malir is also part of the Ohio Leadership Council of the Small Business Administration, a national lobbying group for an independent small business called “The Voice of Small Business.”

Malir told Forbes magazine in an interview published in February 2019 that City Barbeque had just recorded 32% growth in profits and “was cruising at a growth rate of 20% to 25% per year.” He went on to say that one of the keys to the company’s success was to “strengthen the brand, to become the number one barbecue company,” the magazine reported.

Lawyers for City Barbeque began contacting Ohio City BBQ in 2017, trying to get its executives to change their names, citing future “inevitable confusion” from customers who will see Ohio City BBQ and think the popular Columbus chain is opening its business. first Cleveland- restaurant in the area.

Outreach continued in February 2019, when lawyers sent Ohio City BBQ co-owner Chris Abatsas a letter and a draft agreement in which Ohio City BBQ agreed to change its name, according to the lawsuit.

A few days later, the lawyers received the agreement in the mail. Someone tore the pages in half and wrote on the back of one page in all capitals: “Stop sending this shit to me or I will sue for harassment,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said people started calling the newly opened City Barbeque restaurant in 2019 when they wanted to call Ohio City BBQ.

The lawsuit also points to a Yelp reviewer who, according to City Barbeque, “explicitly identified the confusion created by the lower Ohio City BBQ restaurant.” The woman said she was disappointed with Ohio City BBQ and named other barbecue restaurants in Cleveland that she said better, including “the Columbus-based City Barbecue (not to be confused with Ohio City BBQ) “.

The lawsuit cites no other cases of people mistaking the two restaurants as affiliates.

The lawsuit selected a handful of other negative reviews from Yelp that Ohio City BBQ received for claiming the Ohio City restaurant did not meet City Barbeque’s standards and that City Barbeque would suffer from the confusion.

Ohio City BBQ has been rated 4 stars on Yelp since Thursday. City Barbeque’s Strongsville and Beachwood locations both have 3-star ratings as of Thursday.

Lawyers for City Barbeque said they were continuing to try to contact Ohio City BBQ about a name change, but Ohio City BBQ would not negotiate, the lawsuit said. They therefore filed a complaint in May.

City Barbeque also owns restaurants in other states where barbecue restaurants have similar names but have not given rise to litigation. The chain opened its first restaurant in North Carolina in 2014. The New City BBQ and Surf City BBQ were already in operation. Apple City BBQ also operates a smokehouse in the state that opened in 2017.

The Columbus Dispatch reported on the trial in an article published online May 24. The next day, a Yelp reviewer by the name “Josh M.” posted the same 1-star review on all 53 City Barbeque page locations.

The review called City Barbeque “a few wealthy elites” and accused them of suing Ohio City BBQ for using the name “Ohio City,” according to copies of the review attached to the lawsuit and viewed on Yelp. The user called the trial “disgusting”. The review also cited a 2020 Yelp review of City Barbecue’s Beachwood location, where a woman said she found a snail shell in her collard greens before concluding: “Shame on City Barbeque and its owner, Rick Malir “.

Four other people posted 1-star reviews of City Barbeque’s Ohio locations over the next two days, citing the lawsuit. Two of them claimed to have eaten City Barbeque’s food.

A City Barbecue employee has responded to 1-star reviews that the company respects small business.

“There is some confusion in the market between our two companies, and it would be beneficial for both of us to have a clearer distinction in names,” the employee wrote. “We have offered to financially help Ohio City BBQ to change their name – we want them to be successful.”

In the amended complaint, City Barbeque says that “on information and belief,” the posters acted in association with Ohio City BBQ to launch a social media campaign to defame City Barbeque. The lawsuit says none of the reviewers who claimed to have eaten the food visited a barbecue in the city on the day of the review, although the reviewers did not say they did.