Pizza Shop Sues Former Employee For 'Stealing' Recipe

from the can't-own-a-recipe dept

Reader Brian points us to a story where his hometown pizza shop is apparently suing a former employee, claiming he "stole" their family recipes, and used them to open a competing pizza place 20 miles away. We've seen some similar disputes in the past, but have pointed out how the very lack of the ability to use intellectual property to prevent competition in the restaurant business is part of what has helped that industry thrive. Without seeing the actual lawsuit, it's difficult to know what they're actually suing him for. Perhaps they could make a trade secret claim, but recipes themselves cannot be copyrighted, so there's no copyright claim here.

But, really, as you read the quotes from the pizza shop owners who are doing the suing, it appears that they're making an emotional claim, saying things like: "Don't take something that someone else's family started and claim it as your own, because it is not." Okay, sure, but how do you think your family came up with the original recipe in the first place? It wasn't invented from scratch. They got a basic recipe from somewhere else, and perhaps improved upon it, but when someone orders a pizza from your shop, do you tell them who gave the family the original recipe? Of course not.

Then there's this: "I just don't want to compete against my own food." Right, so you're using the law for anti-competitive purposes. The law is supposed to encourage competition, not discourage it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 7:53am

    It's valid

    After all, who would ever think of putting dough, sauce and cheese together on their own?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Freak, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 7:54am

    Of course, drama is part of the business as well

    I have a small suspicion about this.

    Reminds me of the time one pizza restaurant up here accused another of stealing it's secret sauce recipe.

    A few months later, another pizza place publicly claimed it stole the secret sauce from the second one. Newspaper ads and all.

    A few months later, a fourth one . . .

    Fast forward to a year and a half later, when the original pizza place is 'being sued' for stealing the secret sauce recipe which, if anyone is to be believed, came from itself in the first place.


    Of course, it only ended up giving the local pizza places in town free publicity and reducing the market share of chains like pizza hut. I seem to really that no one ever went to court, either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:00am

    This is silly....

    The entire evolutio of pizza has been about taking existing recipes and altering them, often times ever so slightly.

    Without getting into (yet another) silly debate about what style of pizza is best (because there really IS not debate), the story of Chicago style pizza is a wonderful microcosm of this evolution. Years ago, a pizza joint named Uno opened in Chicago. They took New York style pizza and blew it up by putting it in a deep pan and filling it with the ingredients, then putting the sauce on top. Soon after, the area exploded with Chicago style pizzarias.

    Here's the funny thing: nearly all of those pizzarias were started by chefs that had worked at Uno's, including all of the big names. Gino's, Lou Malnatis, Giordano's...all stemming from Uno's.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Hephaestus (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:40am

      Re: This is silly....

      "They took New York style pizza and blew it up by putting it in a deep pan and filling it with the ingredients"

      Dough

      1/4 ounce active dry yeast
      1 cup warm water
      2 cups bread flour
      2 tablespoons olive oil
      1 teaspoon salt

      1 Kaiser Springform Cake Pan

      Filling-topping
      1-2 lbs fresh mozzarella
      1 lbs Italian sweet sausage
      1 lbs Italian hot sausage
      1 green pepper
      1 pepperoni sliced thin

      Throw in oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes.

      Yummy !!!!

      Is that the Pie you are talking about?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        icon
        Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:57am

        Re: Re: This is silly....

        Close enough. Damn you....now I have to go out for lunch...

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Hephaestus (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:08am

          Re: Re: Re: This is silly....

          Hunger is one thing here is my stuff that is drool worthy. Do you want my Apple Strudel, Éclair, or Tiramisu recipies?

          Yeah I know I am a bastard ...

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Jeff Rife, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 1:05pm

        Re: Re: This is silly....

        What size pan is this for?

        It takes me at least 4 cups of flour to get a decent thickness of crust on a 12" deep dish pizza. Also, where's the "food" for the yeast? You need some sort of sugar in there to get a good rise.

        Back on topic...I "stole" most of my pizza recipes from the place I worked for in Texas, and now they might not recognize some of them.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Hephaestus (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 1:23pm

          Re: Re: Re: This is silly....

          "It takes me at least 4 cups of flour to get a decent thickness of crust on a 12" deep dish pizza."

          Personally I like a thin crust (3/8-1/2 inch) on the deep dish. and Yeah I know I forgot the sugar its ...

          2 teaspoons white sugar

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      RD, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:24am

      Re: This is silly....

      "Without getting into (yet another) silly debate about what style of pizza is best (because there really IS not debate)..."

      You are correct, there is no debate. Everyone knows Chicago/Giordanos style pizza is the best.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re: This is silly....

        Giordano's is very tasty. I'm having some delivered soon (across the country on dry ice) to introduce my newest girlfriend to good pizza.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:16am

    No value added

    Of course there's absolutely no value added by the manager/cook. Only the recipe matters.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    RobShaver (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:35am

    Trade Secret

    Could the recipe be considered a trade secret?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:43am

      Re: Trade Secret

      It could, depending on the state that the manner in which the shop owners maintained or attempted to maintain its secrecy.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      dryfire, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:00am

      Re: Trade Secret

      If it was, then they did a very bad job protecting it. My friend's family runs a Chinese restaurant, and there are a few dishes they won't teach regular employees how to make or prepare for fear of them leaving and teaching it to their competition.

      I don't know if it's a valid fear, but they've protected their recipes for 25 years or so as they know that even if they wanted go to court if someone stole their recipe, they could not afford to.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 8:48am

    I think this is the "Jumping the Shark moment" in TechDirt's pancea of Intellectual property focused reporting. This is just a whole new low for Techdirt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    David Sanger (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:52am

    Since they sued in county court ( http://www.geaugacourts.org/ ) it is not a Federal copyright case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 9:57am

    Coke had documents with the Pepsi recipie offered to them for sale (or vice versa, can't remember which) and executives at Coke (or Pepsi) called the FBI and the people responsible were arrested.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Brent Ashley (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 10:03am

    competing from 20 miles away?

    Unless it's a rural setting, 20 miles is a bit far to be claiming that a pizza place is in direct competition. In even the smallest of cities there would be at minimum 10 or 15 other pizza joints much closer than that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 10:04am

    Good 'za!

    I worked a number of years in pizza restaurants and know something about their formulation. It would be foolish for someone to steal the recipe and reproduce it exactly. It would be even more foolish for a restaurant to disclose their recipe in total to an employee. When I worked at Pizza Inn, for example, the spices for the sauce came premeasured in a brown paper bag. This is an example of a company that took measures to ensure their trade secrets. Apparently the company in question did not. Also, the new restaurant was opened 20 miles away. This is enough of a buffer to argue "no competition" with the former employer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Overcast (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 10:54am

    Well - all too often, companies want to pay their people pennies and in the process give them ample access to 'inside' information.

    If you pay your employees like crap - expect this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    marak (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 1:55pm

    Before i became a programmer i worked as a chef for a long time, and the amount of recipies i saw when i moved to a new area, suddenly spring up in competing restaurants was at first surprising.

    But its not the recipe that makes the difference, its the damn chefs(or in this case the cooks). Anyone can make a nice dough that prooves well and bakes quickly with a nice texture, its the quality and standards of making that dough, and the quality of your ingredients, cleanliness of your kitchen that makes the difference.

    And suing over a recipe, damn i should have thought of that, i could have skipped programming and retired :P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    James Carmichael (profile), Nov 3rd, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    BURN!

    Ziiiiing!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This