Restaurant's 'offensive' name subject of a suit

The strata corporation, a council-governed group consisting of property owners elected to oversee property, found the restaurant's name, particularly the word "dick", offensive.
The strata corporation, a council-governed group consisting of property owners elected to oversee property, found the restaurant's name, particularly the word "dick", offensive.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/MOBY DICK RESTAURANT

WASHINGTON • A family-owned fish-and-chips restaurant has been open off the coast of the Canadian suburb of White Rock for more than 40 years.

To give customers that "deep underwater world" feel, the White Rock location was decorated with whale memorabilia and suspended fish nets.

Recently, its owner Yuriy Makogonsky decided to open a second location about 48km away, near a harbour in downtown Vancouver. Given the business' brand as a seafood restaurant, the location seemed to make sense.

But the restaurant has yet to open - because of a problem with its name, Moby Dick, inspired by Herman Melville's novel about a giant white whale.

A private entity known in Canada as a strata corporation, which consists of property owners elected to oversee residential and non-residential properties, refused to issue a permit because it found the restaurant's name - specifically the word "dick" - offensive.

The strata corporation, governed by a council, is now facing a lawsuit brought by the owner of the oceanside commercial property that Makogonsky had planned on leasing to open his restaurant.

The fish-and-chips franchise was supposed to take over the lease of the property in the summer, but "unfair" and "prejudicial" actions by the strata council have hampered negotiations, according to a notice of civil claim filed last week in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

The strata council believed that the restaurant's brand and logo would harm the image and depreciate the value of other properties, according to the claim, and that its opening would result in increased litter, odour and fumes in the area.

The property owner, Mengfa International Resources, a British Columbia-based company, argued that the restaurant's name, given its "literary significance and fame", and logo - the words "Moby Dick" in white font next to a drawing of a whale - are not offensive.

It also makes sense to open a fish-and-chips restaurant at the property, given its proximity to the harbour, the claim states.

Mengfa International bought the property several years ago and leased it to an Asian fusion restaurant in 2014. The lease was supposed to end in 2019.

But last year, less than halfway into the five-year lease, The Change restaurant and bar, which offered gluten-free options, closed for financial reasons.

A few months before the Asian fusion restaurant was shut down, its owners found a prospective tenant that would take over the remainder of the lease: Moby Dick, which Mr Makogonsky bought after moving from Ukraine to Canada in 2014, according to the Calgary Herald.

A new lease agreement was supposed to be finalised in July, but the strata corporation refused to issue a permit, according to the claim.

Had it been allowed to open, the restaurant would have upgraded kitchen features, such as ventilation and exhaust systems, to avoid odours and fumes, the claim said. Moby Dick also intended to ensure it would not increase litter in the area, according to the claim.

The claim states that the strata council demanded that Moby Dick use "minimalist" signage.

The restaurant submitted several logo and renovation proposals, but all were denied, causing delays in finalising the lease agreement.

Mengfa International argued that the council's actions were "significantly unfair and unreasonably prejudicial".

The company is asking the court to find that the strata council went beyond its legal authority by purposefully causing delays that resulted in loss of revenue for the restaurant and property owners.

Mr Glen Forrester, Mengfa International's attorney, said he cannot comment on the case. The online court docket does not list an attorney for the strata corporation, which has not responded to the accusations.

This is not the first time the title of Melville's 1851 novel, which recounted the adventures of Ishmael as he sailed on a ship under a captain bent on seeking revenge against a giant whale named Moby Dick, has been used to name a restaurant business.

For instance, Moby Dick House Of Kabob, a Persian restaurant, has several locations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

There is also Moby Dick Sushi in Wheaton, Maryland, Moby Dick Seafood Restaurant in Louisville, and Moby Dick Restaurant in Santa Barbara, California.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Restaurant's 'offensive' name subject of a suit'. Print Edition | Subscribe