A Japanese friend, excited about a new steak shop opening, asked if I wanted to go. I decided to investigate the new restaurant located in Roppongi. The new restaurant is named Wolfgang’s and it is opening in Tokyo on February 1, 2014. But this is not Wolfgang Puck, luckily Cut operated by Puck makes mediocre steaks, although the cooking technique is interesting. It looks like Wolfgang cannot stop Wolfgang Zwiener from using his own name – I would guess this is a close call.
Oh no, it didn’t stop there and Puck and Zwiener had a few words: as it turned out, just below the new steakhouse’s signage were the words, in smaller lettering, “by Wolfgang Zwiener.” A 40-year veteran and former headwaiter of acclaimed New York steakhouse Peter Luger’s, Zwiener was in the midst of expanding his own brand of restaurants after successfully launching his first Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Manhattan in 2004 on Park Avenue on March, 2007, Puck and Zwiener negotiated an agreement intended to “eliminate confusion.” As part of the deal, Zwiener agreed to display his name prominently alongside any future restaurant, franchise, or licensee that he might open outside of Manhattan (including advertising), while Puck agreed to do the same should he establish future eateries, licensees, or franchisees in Manhattan.
With both parties satisfied, all seemed fine until Zwiener landed in Beverly Hills, Wolfgang Puck country. “Now they opened down here a block away from us,” says Puck. “It’s not like they opened in Bakersfield. Everybody knows me here as Wolfgang. His name is so small, it’s like they are hiding it.”
Puck’s staffers claim they’ve received hundreds of calls from confused customers. One patron attempted to book her Christmas party at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, then withdrew her reservation after discovering that it was not a Puck restaurant. Even the celebrity press has conflated the two Wolfgangs. “It’s all confusing to people. They get upset with me,” says Puck. “So I said we’d have to do something.”
After Puck called Zwiener to complain, referring to their agreement, the chef maintains nothing was done to remedy the situation, so he called his lawyer. On May 15, 2008 Puck filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against Zwiener, claiming that he was “brazenly seeking to take unfair advantage of the reputation and enormous goodwill developed over the past 32 years by Wolfgang Puck and the Wolfgang Puck brand.”
In the end it looks like Zwiener is the winner with the opening of his new restaurant in Tokyo.