Battle Of The Wolfgangs: Zwiener Files Countersuit
The battle of the Wolfgangs continues, as Wolfgang Zwiener filed a countersuit in U.S. District Court claiming Wolfgang Puck breached a contract with his initial lawsuit filed against Zwiener.
The dispute between the two restaurant owners and chefs centers around Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, which recently opened about three blocks from Puck’s steakhouse, Cut. Puck claims the restaurant name is misleading, while Zwiener claims Puck agreed to let him use the name.
The dispute began in 2006, when Puck notified Zwiener of potential trademark infringement issues when Zwiener attempted to trademark Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.
As The Courier reported in its May 16 issue, the two men reached an agreement in March 2007 that called for Zwiener’s name to appear on his steakhouse’s logo. Zwiener’s name does appear on the logo of his restaurant at 445 N. Canon Drive, albeit in considerably smaller letters than the words Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.
Zwiener had opened two similarly named restaurants in Manhattan, according to court papers. Philip Heller, a partner in the firm Fagelbaum & Heller LLP and one of Puck’s attorneys, told The Courier, Zwiener told Puck during negotiations that he would only expand his restaurant in the New York area.
Heller said shortly after the agreement was signed, Zwiener sign a lease with the City of Beverly Hills to open a steakhouse.
“It’s frivolous, it’s baseless,” Heller said of Zwiener’s countersuit. “I think it’s a cheap publicity stunt. He can’t possibly believe that he his stating a viable claim.”
When Zwiener’s new restaurant was about to open last month, one of Puck’s attorneys contacted Zwiener, requesting that he change his restaurant’s name to Wolfgang Zwiener’s Steakhouse, the lawsuit said.
When Zwiener refused, Puck sued for trademark infringement.
In his countersuit, Zwiener claims that Puck broke the agreement by interfering with his rights to open a Beverly Hills restaurant and refusing to meet with him to discuss other ways to address Puck’s concerns.
“We wanted to work together to eliminate the confusion, but (Zwiener) refused to do that,” Heller said.
In his lawsuit, Zwiener sought to expand his business to Los Angeles and Miami because of the large numbers of New York transplants that live in both cities.
Heller told The Courier that Zwiener also contacted W Steak Corp. and WDI International, two companies that specialize in national restaurant chains. Both companies are co-defendants in Puck’s lawsuit.
“He mislead Puck with respect to who his partners were and what his intentions were,” Heller said. “He is violating the agreement he caused us to sign last year and is creating massive confusion by opening this restaurant down the street from us.”
In a statement, Zwiener’s attorneys said their client had conducted himself in complete “accordance with the agreement.”
“Despite Puck’s melodramatic effort to paint Defendants as villains straight out of Casablanca, … the actual evidence reflects not a creative Hollywood movie plot, but only a more mundane and entirely legitimate business decision,” the statement from the New York-based law firm of Cowan, Liebowitz and Latman said. “While Puck may envision an imaginary world filled with sinister plots to take advantage of his good name, the record evidence simply does not support the Hollywood fiction he seeks to create.”
Attorneys for both sides were scheduled to appear June 23 before U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess in downtown Los Angeles.
Puck’s attorneys are seeking a preliminary injunction against Zwiener from using the name Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, plus other damages and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees.
Zwiener’s countersuit seeks dismissal of Puck’s lawsuit, unspecified damages and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and other relief.