What would you do if a restaurateur opened an exact replica of your restaurant in another city? Yenn Wong owns Chachawan Isaan Thai and Bar in Hong Kong. According to a report on CNN, Wong was surprised to learn earlier this month that a small restaurant group had opened up a virtual copy of Chachawan in Shanghai. After a bit of social media sleuthing, Wong was able to discover that the menu and decor were nearly identical to her restaurant's. She took to her Facebook page to set the record straight.
"We feel this is such a disrespect to the hard work and creativity that our own team, graphic designers and local artists have put into Chachawan Hong Kong," wrote Wong. Meanwhile, the owners of the Shanghai location deny any knowledge of the Hong Kong-based (original) Chachawan. A spokesperson for the original Chachawan expressed disbelief at the Shanghai copycat owners ignorance: "I'm surprised that they say they have no idea about Chachawan since the owners have dined at Chachawan [in Hong Kong], and in fact had formal meetings with... owner Yenn Wong in April this year, expressing their interest in taking the concept to [mainland China], which was declined."
CNN reports that the trend of copying concepts and retail designs has long been an issue in China. Aside from well-documented Apple store ripoffs, restaurants seem to be the latest victims. A Japanese cheesecake shop called Uncle Rikuro discovered a whole chain of copycats in China. More than 200 fake Rikuro shops still operate in China today.
Meanwhile, legal action proves challenging. Though laws are in place to protect creativity and trademarks, "a lot of people don't understand the concept of registering the name of their restaurant or store as a trademark," says a Hong Kong-based lawyer familiar with trademark law. In addition to providing documentation of a unique concept, the Chinese government requires that each concept be considered "well-known" — a distinction that is very difficult to prove in a country as populous as China.