Down East 2013 ©
One venue named TAO earns more money than any other nightclub in the world. It took in $55 million at its Las Vegas restaurant in its first year and requires a minimum of nine hundred dollars for a reservation for four at its club. Another venue named Tao serves sixteen dollars tapas in a tiny white cottage across from a small-town library and church. The first TAO paid fifty thousand dollars to host Kim Kardashian’s bachelorette party and sent a scantily-clad “Champagne Fairy” zip-lining across the dance floor to deliver Lebron James a $1,500 bottle of Cristal champagne. The other Tao is run by a mother and daughter whose idea of cutting loose is sprinkling fiddleheads, lobster knuckles, and husk cherries into traditional Asian dishes.
If you can’t tell which TAO is operated by nightclub mogul Jason Strauss and which Tao is a family-owned restaurant in Brunswick, Maine, then you are either naïve or a humorless trademark attorney.
“Last July, I got a cease and desist letter,” says Cecile Stadler, who opened Brunswick’s Tao [Down East, November 2012 ] with her daughter, Cara, last May. “We said we’d change our name if they paid for it because we had made all the signs and brochures. They said no and then they sued us.” On October 2, 2012, TAO LISCENCING LLC, the company that owns TAO Las Vegas and New York nightclubs and restaurants, filed a complaint against Stadler. Portland lawyer Mark Porada, who represents the nightclub, declined to comment, but the lawsuit claims that the Brunswick restaurant’s use of the name Tao “makes it highly likely, if not inevitable,” that consumers will believe the two businessess are associated with one another. The complaint states that Stadler’s business “unfairly competed with the plaintiff in the marketplace,” and thus has caused the multimillion-dollar party palace “to sustain irreparable damage, loss, and injury.” TAO wants the Brunswick restaurant’s name changed, unspecified monetary compensation, and a share of its profits.
“I’m just trying to keep our name,” says Stadler. “In fact, we’d prefer not to be associated with that other place at all.”
Stadler says her restaurant’s name derives from a Chinese fable about a fisherman who discovers a utopia inside a grove of peach trees. The word “tao” can mean peach but also refers to a place off the beaten path. “Part of the problem is there are so many homonyms in Chinese,” Stadler explains.
When asked if anyone’s confused the two, Stadler says, “Oh, yeah, all these movie stars walk in asking if they’re in Las Vegas. Paris Hilton was in just the other day.” She waits a moment and adds, “Of course not!” — W.B.
TAO Photograph ©Al Powers/Retna Ltd./Corbis