Heart Attack Grill, the Vegas-based breasturant that serves high-calorie dishes with a death wish on the side, has sued a new competitor: a restaurant called Heart Attack Shack, which opened in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in February. In the suit, which was filed in Tennessee federal court last week, the Grill’s founder, Jon Basso, is accusing the Shack’s owners of trying to fool customers into thinking the two restaurants are the same.
“Heart Attack Shack intends that their customers believe that their services and goods are sponsored, approved by or emanates from ‘Heart Attack Grill,’” reads the complaint. As Law360 notes (subscription req’d), while the Grill is an outrageous homage to overeating, Heart Attack Shack is “a more conventional burger, fry, and wing joint.”
“They’re just using USPTO trademark, so it’s a blatant violation of law,” Basso said when Eater reached him by phone, before saying he couldn’t talk about pending legal proceedings. He would not clarify what trademark was being used illegally by Heart Attack Shack. When it opened, the Shack served a menu item under the fries section called Flatliner XL; the Grill has always called its lard-fried potatoes Flatliner fries. The menu on the Shack’s website no longer contains the phrase “Flatliner.”
Since it opened in 2005, Heart Attack Grill has featured servers and staff dressed in sexed-up medical garb (none are actually trained doctors or nurses) and menu items like a Quadruple Bypass Burger and Coronary Dog. Patrons eat free if they weigh over 350 pounds — and agree to weigh themselves in front of a cheering crowd on a livestock scale. The bottom of the menu reads: “If you do not finish your meal the nurse will administer spankings!”
Though the Shack, which is located inside a T-Mobile call center, offers a free meal to anyone who can eat two 1-pound bacon cheeseburgers and a plate of extra-large fries in under 30 minutes, it’s otherwise a seemingly average burger and wing spot. Servers at the Shack do not wear revealing nurse costumes, and menu items include a quarter-pound cheeseburger and 3-piece chicken wings. The interior does not feature the faux medical devices and wheelchairs that the Grill uses as decor.
Shack owner Brian Tipps is a minister and part-time pastor — his Twitter presence is equal parts scripture, sports, and business advice — who had no prior restaurant experience before opening Heart Attack Shack. As the Times Free Press reported, Tipps got the idea for the Shack from a friend of his who ran another restaurant nearby that served a Heart Attack Burger. (Whether or not the inspiration for that menu item came from the Vegas eatery is unclear.)
A spokesperson for Heart Attack Shack declined to speak on the matter. Basso, know for throwing around outlandish statements that some find creepy, opened Heart Attack Grill in Arizona in 2005. He later moved the concept to the Las Vegas area; a second location opened on the Las Vegas strip in late 2016, but that shop closed two months later.
Unsurprisingly this isn’t the first time Heart Attack Grill has gone to court. In 2010, Basso sued a Florida restaurant named Heart Stoppers Grill. Though the premise for both concepts was the same, “They don't require their nurses to dress in a provocative manner,” Heart Stoppers’ lawyer wrote in a statement, also noting that the business was aiming for “a family-type restaurant,” not a “Hooters-type crowd.” The case was settled out of court; Heart Stoppers has since closed.
In 2012 Basso went after NYC’s 2nd Avenue Deli and its Instant Heart Attack Sandwich. Basso lost his copyright infringement case in New York federal court when a judge ruled in favor of 2nd Avenue’s owner Jeremy Lebewohl. Today, the deli serves both that Heart Attack menu item as well as a Triple Bypass Sandwich described as a "3 Decker sandwich consisting of 3 large potato pancakes and everything but the kitchen sink, served with French fries,” for $49.95.