The word “cheeseboat” has become the unlikely focal point of a potential legal battle between restaurant owners on opposite sides of the country. Netty Davit’ashvili, who founded two Georgian eateries in New York City called Cheeseboat, has threatened a civil lawsuit against Bay Area restaurateur Shalva Dzotsenidze on the basis of trademark infringement. Dzotsenidze opened a Georgian fast-casual spot in North Beach called Cheeseboat in February.
The cheeseboat in question is khachapuri, a traditional Georgian stuffed bread with cheese and a sunny side up egg in the center that resembles a sailing vessel.
Davit’ashvili contends that she created the name when she opened her first location in Brooklyn in 2015. Six years ago, she secured a U.S. trademark for the name “Cheeseboat,” and said she would be OK for someone else using the name if they were willing to pay her royalties.
“It doesn’t sit with me well,” Davit’ashvili said over the phone. “This is the project of my life.”
Dzotsenidze told The Standard that Davit’ashvili’s legal team sent a letter threatening him with a civil lawsuit.
“They said I have no right to use it,” he said. “That’s crazy.”
But Davit’ashvili doesn’t see it that way. In fact, she said she is concerned people will confuse Dzotsenidze’s restaurant with hers—even though it’s in a different time zone.
“Someone told me that his restaurant was affiliated with us,” Davit’ashvili said. “But I don’t want to go by hearsay.”
She claimed that the potential lawsuit satisfies one of the criteria of trademark infringement—“likelihood of confusion”—which can arise when there is a misleading similarity between two entities.
“The confusion is happening,” she said.
Davit’ashvili verified that her mother, Kate Gochashvili, who now owns the restaurant, spoke with Dzotsenidze by phone, but said that during the conversation Dzotsenidze argued that there was no infringement taking place.
Davit’ashvili also confirmed that her mother's lawyers contacted Dzotsenidze, but said it’s not her intention to start a lawsuit—just to clear up any ambiguity.
Dzotsenidze, who told The Standard he hoped to avoid a lawsuit, said he spoke with someone from the New York City restaurant by phone in an effort to clear up the issue but was unable to resolve the conflict verbally.
“I explained to her I didn’t see how it would interfere with her business,” he said. “And I explained to her how I came up with the name. My customers can’t pronounce khachapuri, so they refer to it as ‘cheese boat.’”
As it stands, there are countless restaurants across the country named for the dishes they serve, like “square pizza” and “super burrito.” Davit’ashvili clarified that her trademark doesn’t include the generic use of “cheese boat.”
“I cannot prohibit anyone from using ‘cheese boat’ on their menu,” she said. “This has happened a lot in New York and Philadelphia.”
Currently, Dzotsenidze said he has no plans to expand his business to New York. He added that part of his vision for his newest restaurant—his flagship eatery is located in San Carlos—is to popularize khachapuri so the Georgian comfort food becomes as ubiquitous as pizza.
Davit’ashvili, a Georgian native who grew up in New York, opened her Brooklyn restaurant at the age of 27. She said her business has a feminist mission, with a logo depicting khachapuri that she said represents the vagina.
“We’re very progressive and support our LGBTQ community,” she said.
For now, Dzotsenidze believes he has found a way to keep the looming lawsuit at anchor. He has already remade his signage to separate Cheeseboat into two words—that is, “Cheese Boat”—which Davit’ashvili said is not protected under her trademark. Dzotsenidze confirmed that he plans to fully modify his restaurant name.
“I’m changing it to ‘Georgian Cheese Boat,’” he said. “I don't know what else to do.”
Correction: Netty Davit'ashvili threatened a civil lawsuit on the basis of trademark infringement. The lawyers who called Dzotsenidze represented Davit'ashvili's mother.
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