Oregon Brewing Co., one of the largest craft brewers in America and the company behind the popular Rogue Ales, has sued chef R.J. Cooper and his restaurant, Rogue 24, for trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting and trademark cyber-squatting, among other claims.
Named after a tasting menu that Cooper first conceived at Vidalia, where owner Jeff Buben joked his chef had "gone rogue," Rogue 24 has been serving up small modernist plates since July 2011. Nearly two years later, the West Coast brewery has determined that the chef and his restaurant are "likely to cause confusion, mistake and/or deception as to the affiliation, connection or association of defendants with" Oregon Brewing, attorneys for the brewery wrote in the suit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
What's more, Cooper's use of the Rogue name has been done "with the intention of trading on the goodwill and reputation of [Oregon Brewing's] mark," the lawsuit notes. Unless stopped, the defendants will "irreparably injure" the brewery.
Oregon Brewing is asking Cooper and Rogue 24 to stand down on all fronts. The brewery, which owns a number of Rogue-themed watering holes and distilleries on the West Coast, wants Cooper to stop using the Rogue name and "destroy all literature, signs, billboards, labels, prints, packages, wrappers, containers, advertising materials, stationery, menus and other items in their possession, custody or control that use Rogue and Rogue 24."
Oregon Brewing also wants Cooper to transfer the domain name for his Web site, rogue24.com, to the company.
"It's a multi-, multi-, multi-million-dollar brewery going after a small restaurant for no reason," says the Beard Award-winning chef about Oregon Brewing, one of the top 25 craft brewers in the country. "It's called bullying. It's exactly what it is."
Cooper says that representatives with Oregon Brewing contacted him about a year after Rogue 24 opened, looking to convince the chef to change the name of his restaurant. Oregon Brewing then reached out again, about three months ago, with the same demand, he says.
To the chef and restaurateur, the request seems absurd on the face of it. The two businesses are so radically different — one a brewery and distillery serving pub grub, the other a pricy tasting-menu restaurant that specializes in precision-oriented modernist cooking. The two businesses, Cooper adds, don't even work in the same geographical area.
(In its lawsuit, Oregon Brewing argues otherwise, saying its products are well-known among Washingtonians: "Rogue-branded beer and spirits are frequently served in restaurants and bars across the country and in the Washington Metropolitan Area," the suit notes.)
"I think the [basis] for it is that we were planning on doing this bar called Rogue Spirits," Cooper says. Such a handle would be a direct appropriation of the name of Oregon Brewing's line of distilled products. But Cooper says the name of his bar was never set in stone.
"We're planning on doing a bar, but it won't be Rogue Spirits," Cooper explains. "It was just a starting point . . .of what we wanted to do."
Cooper is not sure yet how he and his team will respond to the suit; he says that he has not been officially served with a summons. Whether he does or doesn't change the name of his place, Cooper wonders why he's the target of Oregon Brewing, given there are other restaurants that have adopted the "rogue" name.
I called two such establishments — Rogue Bar & Restaurant in New York and Rogues Gallery in Philadelphia — and employees at both places said they were not aware of any past or pending lawsuits from Oregon Brewing.
Neither an Oregon Brewing spokesman nor attorney John J. Dabney with McDermott Will & Emery in the District, which filed the suit, were immediately available for comment.