The Kitchen founder Kimbal Musk, left, and Wolfgang Puck met at one of Puck's California restaurants in 2012. (Courtesy The Kitchen Cafe)

Kimbal Musk’s The Kitchen sues Wolfgang Puck’s company over trademark dispute

BOULDER – The Kitchen Café LLC, Kimbal Musk’s company that owns several restaurants in Colorado and outside the state, has filed a lawsuit against renowned chef Wolfgang Puck’s company, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition regarding the use of The Kitchen brand.

Boulder-based The Kitchen filed the suit against Wolfgang Puck Licensing LLC in U.S. District Court in Denver on Friday.

The filing heats up a dispute that’s been simmering for more than a year and first became public when The Kitchen filed a notice of opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in February regarding Puck’s use of The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck and The Kitchen Counter by Wolfgang Puck on his new franchises.

Neither The Kitchen officials nor an attorney for Wolfgang Puck Licensing LLC could be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

The new lawsuit levies many of the same complaints as the February filings, mainly that Puck’s use of The Kitchen mark too closely resembles The Kitchen Café LLC’s own restaurant names and branding; causes confusion in the marketplace as The Kitchen Café LLC expands nationally; and knowingly disregards The Kitchen Café LLC’s own trademark registrations.

“By adding Wolfgang Puck’s personal name to Plaintiff’s THE KITCHEN mark, Defendant misappropriated THE KITCHEN mark in a manner that falsely credits Wolfgang Puck with the origination of and goodwill associated with THE KITCHEN brand,” the lawsuit states.

The Kitchen Café LLC, which was cofounded by Musk and Hugo Matheson and opened its first location in 2004, operates The Kitchen restaurants in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, Chicago and Memphis, with another slated for Cherry Creek. It also has The Kitchen Next Door locations in Boulder and Denver, The Kitchen Upstairs in Boulder, and The Kitchenette in Memphis. The company’s restaurants seek to serve fresh, locally sourced food, and the company also operates it’s the Kitchen Community Learning Gardens.

Wolfgang Puck’s firm opened the first The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck franchise in Grand Rapids, Mich., last year, touting fresh, locally sourced “comfort food.” His company, according to The Kitchen’s lawsuit, has followed with similar restaurants at Dulles International Airport, Reagan National Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, with additional expansion plans for later this year.

Musk told BizWest in February that he was shocked to learn last year that Puck’s company was opening restaurants under The Kitchen flag, particularly since Musk viewed Puck as a mentor. Musk said the two met for lunch at Puck’s Spago Beverly Hills restaurant in California in the summer of 2012 to chat about their ventures, with Puck offering advice to Musk on growing his business.

“The next thing I know, he copied it,” Musk said in February.

The Kitchen Café LLC’s lawsuit claims that Musk made multiple attempts to contact Puck personally last year to seek a resolution. Musk had hoped to convince Puck to modify his restaurant names to something like Wolfgang Puck’s Kitchen or Puck’s Kitchen, rather than keeping their current names and branding that emphasized The Kitchen name and showed the “by Wolfgang Puck” portion of the name in much smaller lettering.

The Kitchen’s lawsuit states that Musk’s calls to Puck were never returned and that, through legal counsel, Puck denied any recollection of the 2012 meeting with Musk and refused to discuss any changes to his use of THE KITCHEN mark.

The lawsuit asks the court to grant injunctive relief seeking to bar Puck’s company from using THE KITCHEN mark, and that the court directs the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to refuse registration of related trademarks Puck’s company seeks. The suit also seeks payment of attorneys’ fees and to grant The Kitchen “such other and further relief as the Court may deem just, proper, and equitable under the circumstances.”

“Defendants’ unauthorized use of THE KITCHEN immediately caused confusion in the restaurant industry and marketplace, as people assumed that Mr. Musk has decided to affiliate with or license Wolfgang Puck,” the lawsuit states.

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