Chao Bistro—that's pronounced "chow," not like the beginning of the word "chaos"—opened to name-related controversy on Capitol Hill a month ago. The Pan-Asian bar and restaurant is located in the space formerly known as Sammie Sue's, 1200 Bistro, and (most recently, and very briefly) Pike's Bar & Grill. The ownership is also involved in the Belltown clubs Venom (known for fog-machine spumes and leg-humping dance-floor action) and Amber (known as premier hunting grounds for heterosexual young urban professionals). Chao's sign first read "Chow Bistro," but Chow Foods—the parent company of Seattle restaurants the 5 Spot, Atlas Foods, Endolyne Joe's, and the Hi-Life—took umbrage, asking Chow Bistro to change the name, which it did, kind of, to Chao.
Chow Foods was not to be placated by this, issuing a statement that read in part, "[The owner] attempted to placate us by simply changing the spelling... We welcome the operators of this new restaurant into the Seattle restaurant community and wish them well in this difficult economic environment, but sure as hell wish that they would use a different name that wouldn't cause confusion in the marketplace." Not a very welcoming welcome, really, and furthermore: Who cares?
Answer: Nobody! Out of 1,117 respondents to a highly scientific poll conducted on Slog, The Stranger's blog, on Chao Bistro's opening day, 42 percent felt that Chow Foods needs to chill out ("Next thing you know they'll sue Cheryl Chow for having been an elected politician"), 12 percent considered Chao Bistro's name to be its own punishment, and 46 percent recognized the truth of both of these things. The same day, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported that Chow Foods filed a lawsuit against Chao Bistro for alleged trademark infringement. Chow Foods owner Peter Levy says now, "Procedurally, we're waiting for their reply to our complaint," while Chao Bistro's owner could not be reached for comment.
Whatever it shall be called, the establishment on the corner of 12th Avenue and East Pike Street is open for business. During the instant when it was Pike's Etc., I walked in, was swarmed by staff with desperation glinting in their eyes, and backed out slowly, too unnerved to gain any impression of the decor, but it is now of the dark-palette, urban-minimalist variety (black-lacquered bar, maroon walls, sedately striped booths, flat-screen TVs). The $3 to $15 menu ranges wildly (Island-style fried rice with Spam, fettuccine with miso cream sauce, teriyaki chicken burger), and hot oil is not neglected (tempura'd sushi rolls, calamari, brown-sugar-battered deep-fried cheesecake). Meanwhile, established neighbor Boom Noodle just moved into Pan-Asian territory, adding pad thai, pho, and more to its menu. Chao's got its work cut out for it.
UPDATE: Chao Bistro owner Tony Kang responds via email: "Yamashiro LLC respects the intellectual property rights of others and the law. However, we do not believe we infringe any trademarks of Chow Foods and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves. Our service to customers will not be disrupted by the suit."
UPDATE #2: Chow Foods owner Peter Levy, sounding profoundly weary of the entire matter, said via telephone, "Am I going to drop the lawsuit? Yes. I’m just done. I’ve got more significant concerns than this. I’m fine with what they're doing—good luck to them."
Asked about the fact that The Stranger's food and restaurants section has been called Chow since last century, Levy said, "And I didn’t sue you, did I?"
The end (we hope).