The owner of Carbone’s Fine Food and Wine in Dallas filed a lawsuit on June 1, 2022 against Carbone, an Italian restaurant 2 miles away with a similar-sounding name. Carbone’s owner Julian Barsotti says customers are confused and that he wants to protect his family name.
The case has divided Dallas diners because it’s a David and Goliath-like food fight that pits New York City newcomer Carbone against Dallas-born Carbone’s.
Carbone parent company Major Food Group owns about 30 restaurants across the globe that tend to be celebrity magnets for people like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Adele. Carbone’s is a one-off restaurant in Dallas; its owner operates four other restaurants locally.
Read the details of the Carbone’s-Carbone trademark lawsuit. Here are 5 things to know about this high-profile case in Dallas.
1. Both restaurants serve Italian food on or near Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas.
Carbone’s opened first, in April 2012 in Dallas. Carbone opened in Dallas about 10 years later, in March 2022.
But Carbone originated in New York City in March 2013. In its nine years in business, Carbone expanded from NYC to Miami, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and now Dallas.
Both Dallas restaurants are located on or near Oak Lawn Avenue. Carbone’s is at 4208 Oak Lawn Avenue near the Park Cities. Carbone is at 1617 Hi Line Drive, with the back of the restaurant butting up against Oak Lawn Avenue.
2. Carbone’s does not have a federal trademark; its owner believed it was covered under common law trademark. Carbone has one federal trademark and a second one pending.
Barsotti did not trademark his restaurant name. He didn’t need to, he says, believing that common law ownership in Texas happens naturally.
Major Food Group — that’s the Carbone parent company — has two trademarks filed. One federal trademark for Carbone Restaurant was filed Jan. 27, 2012 and registered Sept. 24, 2013. A second federal trademark, for the name Carbone, was filed Aug. 4, 2020 and is not registered yet.
The judge will decide which trademark will prevail. The judge will also weigh how much harm, if any, has been caused.
The Dallas attorneys will argue that common law should protect the name Carbone’s back to 2011, even before the restaurant opened, because 2011 was when the lease was signed and the name was placed on the exterior of the building.
The attorneys representing the New York City restaurant could argue that the federal trademark reigns and that it dates back to early 2012, before Carbone’s opened in Dallas, says John Cone, an adjunct professor at SMU who teaches trademark law.
3. Customers, employees and food have shown up to the wrong place.
At least 20 people have walked into Carbone’s thinking it’s Carbone, Jonathan Nietzel, general manager of Carbone’s, tells The Dallas Morning News. He also says that a handful of people looking to get a job at the new Carbone showed up at Carbone’s instead.
Nietzel has a log of more than 1,400 phone calls that Carbone’s employees have answered from people attempting to call the other restaurant, Carbone.
The GM also has proof that the city of Dallas and the restaurant’s produce purveyor have sent items to the incorrect address, confusing the two restaurants.
4. The owner of Carbone’s was hesitant to file a lawsuit.
“We want to work this out amicably,” says Carbone’s attorney Matthew Yarbrough, “but we want to preserve the rights to Julian’s family name.”
Barsotti has awned The News several times that he didn’t want to resort to legal action. Barsotti hoped Carbone would n’t open at all, after his attorney felt a cease and desist letter on Dec. 1, 2021. It went unanswered and the restaurant debuted about four months later in Dallas.
Carbone’s parent company Major Food Group didn’t respond to requests for comment, so we don’t know why the company didn’t respond to the cease and desist letter.
It’s too early to know whether one of the restaurants would need to change its name, temporarily or permanently. Yarbrough, representing Carbone’s, plans to file a temporary restraining order soon.
5. A trademark law professor calls the case ‘a very difficult fight to predict.’
“There’s no doubt here, they’re the same name and both Italian restaurants,” Cone says. Cone is not involved in the lawsuit.
He notes that “the dates are so close,” speaking to the timing that each restaurant opened and the date Carbone parent company filed for its first federal trademark.
Attorneys, restaurateurs and foodies will likely be watching closely to see what happens next.