Forging an Identity

Chef Marc Forgione always wanted to open a restaurant called Forge.

“It’s my nickname—it’s always been my nickname,” explained the 30-year-old mohawked kitchen maestro, who trained under the tutelage of such acclaimed chefs as Kazuto Matsusaka, Pino Maffeo and Laurent Tourondel, not to mention his own father, American cooking pioneer Larry Forgione, who is also known to use the same alias.

“It’s my dad’s nickname, it’s my brother’s nickname, it’s my sister’s nickname,” the culinary scion said. “Never mind just my immediate family—my cousins, my uncles, I mean, every person in my family’s nickname is Forge.

“I don’t even think it was, ‘Do we want to open a restaurant?’ I think it was, ‘Do we want to open Forge?’ I’ve known I was going to name my restaurant Forge since I decided I wanted to open a restaurant.”

Sure enough, last June, the young chef hung a big wooden “Forge” sign on the front of a 2,500-square-foot former Tribeca dairy warehouse, located at 134 Reade Street, where he’s been serving up suckling pig and honey-glazed duck breast ever since.

Come Feb. 1, however, the sign must come down. Menus, business cards, even the eatery’s Web site (www.forgenyc.com) are also headed for the dust bin of local culinary history.

Heck, friends of the chef may have to come up with an entirely new nickname for the guy.

“It’s not because we’re in trouble that we’re changing the name,” said Forge—er, Mr. Forgione—who, ever mindful of New Yorkers’ uncanny ability to sniff out any sign of weakness at their local eateries, was emphatic about making that point. “We’re not changing the concept. We’re not changing the chef. We’re not trying to attract attention. It’s all because we have to.”

This past September, Mr. Forgione and managing partner Christopher Blumlo were served with a thick stack of legal papers—“It literally looked like a phonebook!” the chef said—charging the pair with six counts of trademark infringement, “cybersquatting” and other unfair business practices.

Rival restaurateur Shareef Malnik, operator of the opulent Miami Beach eatery the Forge (home of the famous “Super Steak”), was suing in U.S. District Court to stop the New York chef from commercializing his own nickname.

“If my nickname was McDonald’s, I can’t just open a McDonald’s,” said Mr. Malnik, who registered a federal trademark on the term “forge” for restaurant purposes back in 1996. “It may or may not be his nickname. I don’t really care. You can’t open a restaurant on somebody else’s coattails. It’s just not legal.”

Restaurateurs are notoriously litigious about naming rights. Prominent chefs Wolfgang Puck and Wolfgang Zwiener slugged it out for months over the opening of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills. Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in midtown Manhattan has battled Patsy’s Pizzeria in Harlem for years. Never mind state lines: Angry operators have been known to lob legal assaults even over international borders. The original Bukhara restaurant in New Dehli, India, took Manhattan’s Bukhara Grill to court back in 2003. Just last month, the Hotel Cipriani in Venice sued the famed Cipriani restaurant in London.

“If you build something and it has a great image, it becomes very valuable,” Mr. Malnik said. “Another restaurant with the same name and a poor review is going to tarnish my image, and I can’t have that. … People are going to go there thinking that it’s my restaurant!”

 

MR. FORGIONE’S PARTNER, Mr. Blumlo, 32, a former Aramark executive in charge of food service at Shea Stadium and the new Citifield, would beg to differ: “If you look at the two restaurants, they couldn’t be more different.”

Forging an Identity