Please be seated.
Today I'll be issuing decisions on two cases from our docket, both well-publicized fights involving Portland restaurants. In each case, plaintiffs argue that defendants have caused harm to their businesses by misappropriating their intellectual property. These cases were headed for court, but we've decided to save everybody a lot of time and money by adjudicating them here. Though there is no legal basis for doing so, we suggest that these decisions be treated as binding by all parties involved, just as they would if being heard by the esteemed Hon. Judith Sheindlin.
Killer Burger v. Rock and Roll Chili Pit
Our first case, Killer Burger v. Rock and Roll Chili Pit, was filed by Killer Burger owner TJ Southard, who alleges that former Killer Burger co-owners Mark and Robin McCrary stole recipes for two of his burgers, the "Epic," topped with pulled pork and slaw, and the "Black Molly," topped with grilled onions, a smoky sauce and pickled green chilies.
Killer Burger is a beloved local chain that places bacon on every burger. Rock and Roll Chili Pit is the new project from the former co-owner, who has built a Vegas-y downtown restaurant with a huge line of boozy shakes and a bar top shaped like a Flying V.
According to the lawsuit filed by Southard, "an article in the Willamette Week newspaper noted that the similarities between Killer Burger's business and defendants' new store were 'suspiciously hilarious,' but there is nothing funny about it. The defendants are stealing from Killer Burger. They should be stopped and must be made to pay."
You cannot copyright a recipe, and in order to protect the name of a product such as the Big Mac™ through trademark you have to federally register it. Killer Burger has not secured either trademark.
We visited both downtown restaurants for lunch recently—if this case does go to another court, we sincerely hope that an enrobed judge and jury of their peers is paraded through both—and found that neither had the Black Molly or Epic burgers for sale, though Killer Burger has since brought back the Molly. Therefore, we rule that Killer Burger does not have standing to file a lawsuit.
The court also wanted consider the merits of the burgers that are actually available. So we purchased our favorite, the Peanut-Butter-Pickle-Bacon ($9.95 with fries), and then asked the folks at Rock and Roll Chili Pit to re-create the same burger using their housemade peanut butter sauce (the Classic Rock burger for $9.90, sub in peanut sauce). We found that Killer Burger's take is superior, as the char of the juicy patty and the restrained but nutty sauce worked far better than the overly sweet and thick peanut sauce. The court also found that Killer Burger's fries are superior on the basis of crispness, but that the boozy milkshakes at Rock and Roll Chili Pit ($7.49) are tasty, though seemingly too numerous in type to be deftly executed.
We rule that Rock and Roll Chili Pit must remove half the shake flavors from its menu and that Killer Burger, upon securing a full liquor license, be ordered to also make boozy shakes and name them after items on the menu at Rock and Roll Chili Pit.
Our second case features two local businesses named Heart. One is an artisanal coffee roaster known for its delicate light roast profiles and sparse aesthetic. The other is a new pizza place from Micah Camden, owner of Blue Star Donuts and Boxer Ramen, and who also co-founded Little Big Burger before selling it to Chanticleer Holdings.
Heart Pizza is a small, sparse space in downtown's West End neighborhood that serves whole Neapolitan pies, salads and a large line of canned beverages. On a recent evening visit we were the only party. Our cook-server had to come inside from a vape break to make our pies.
We found that the salads were rather boring. An arugula and prosciutto salad ($8) suffered from the fact that no one bothered to cut the prosciutto into small pieces so that you weren't just eating a slab of thin-sliced ham. The Caesar ($8) had too much garlic and not enough umami.
On the topic of the pies, we find that Heart Pizza is mimicking Heart Coffee Roasters too closely—that is, both pies we had were baked to the same extreme lightness as their namesake's beans. This means the pies are barely done, lacking any hint of crispness. It's less pizza than naan, and this is not good.
Furthermore, while the combination of olives, marinara, mozzarella and basil was okay, a "sausage fennel" pie ($13) with white sauce, mozzarella and fennel pollen was ill-considered, with a lack of acid to balance the fats.
We order that Heart Pizza change its name to Pizza Umbria and that it henceforth bake its pies to the appropriate level of doneness so that they have a ribbon of crispness and maybe a hint of char.
GO: Rock and Roll Chili Pit, 304 SW 2nd Ave., 971-242-8725, rockandrollchilipit.com. Killer Burger has nine locations, including downtown at 510 SW 3rd Ave. killerburger.com. Heart Pizza, 417 SW 13th Ave., 503-764-9239, heartpizza.com. Heart Coffee has three locations, including downtown at 537 SW 12th Ave., 503-224-0036, heartroasters.com.