Kathi roll now at the heart of a Manhattan court fight

Aug 06 2014, 10:41 IST
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A Kati Roll Company outlet A Kati Roll Company outlet
SummaryFood tussle: Kati Roll Company owner filed lawsuit against rival, alleging infringment on trademark and stealing recipes

The kathi roll, a popular Indian street food originating in Kolkata, is now in the middle of a legal tussle in the United States.

When Payal Saha, a native of Kolkata, where the snack originated, opened the Kati Roll Company, in 2002 in Greenwich Village, it was, she said, the first restaurant of its kind in the United States. She now has three Kati Roll Company locations in New York and one in London.

In February, a competitor, Kati Junction, opened on West 40th Street, about four blocks away from the Kati Roll Company’s location on West 39th Street. To Saya, the place looked a bit too familiar. The orange and white colour scheme. The open-kitchen layout. The hats and aprons worn by the employees. The employees themselves.

Saha responded by filing a lawsuit against Kati Junction, alleging that it was infringing on her trademark and had unfairly appropriated her recipes, her menu, her layout and her colour scheme, and had hired some of her former workers, including a former manager, to avail itself of her trade secrets. Last month, Judge Shira A Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan issued a ruling permitting the suit to proceed.

“The Kati Roll Company has engaged in the hard work necessary to create, develop and maintain our unique restaurant experience, our brand, our valuable intellectual property and our customers’ good will,” the company said in a statement on Friday. “We do — and will continue to — protect our brand, so our customers and potential customers are not misled by impersonators.”

Ronit Oberoi, a manager of Kati Junction and brother of its owner, Darpan Bharara, said the two restaurants had nothing in common.

“Burger King and McDonald’s have similarities but you wouldn’t say they’re the same,” he said. “We have pistachio milk. They don’t.”

Oberoi, echoing the argument in Kati Junction’s court filings, said people in India had been eating kati rolls and their traditional fillings for 5,000 years, so some similarities were unavoidable. “It’s chicken tikka,” he said. “I’m not going to call it something else. You call a cheeseburger a cheeseburger.”

In its court filings, Kati Junction has also denied the other claims of the Kati Roll Company. As for the employees, Kati Junction said, none were in management positions and all had been hired after the new restaurant’s décor and recipes were set.

Sandeep, a Kati Roll customer, agreed with Kati Junction on one point. “Kati rolls

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