A Slice of the Pie: Accusations of Recipe Stealing from Dueling NYC Pizzerias Underscores Legal Difficulties - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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A Slice of the Pie: Accusations of Recipe Stealing from Dueling NYC Pizzerias Underscores Legal Difficulties

A Slice of the Pie: Accusations of Recipe Stealing from Dueling NYC Pizzerias Underscores Legal Difficulties

The long and storied New York pizza feuds1 can now add another contender to the list. Owners of a famous slice shop in Manhattan allege a former employee has taken the recipe of their famous slice and have threatened legal action2, but such cases often prove difficult for plaintiffs.3

Although Made in New York Pizza (located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan) has only been open since December 20184, it has already drawn controversy. That is because Frank Badali, former employee of the famous Prince Street Pizza (located in the NoLIta area of Manhattan) and current employee of Made in New York Pizza, is alleged to have taken the recipe of the famous slice from his former employer.5 This is a claim Badali emphatically denies.6

Prince Street Pizza has been a staple of the New York pizza scene since it opened in 2012.7 Their famous Spicy Spring pie (a square Sicilian pie loaded with mounds of pepperoni), known by both New Yorkers and tourists alike, is at the center of the current controversy. Prince Street claims the former employee took the recipe and brought it to his new employer, effectively violating his employment agreement.8 Badali claims he never signed any such agreement from his former employer,9 and did not copy the recipe, but “upgraded” it.10

Cases like this, in which one chef alleges another chef “stole” a recipe, are not new. The feud described above is one that has repeated itself numerous times in the past11 and will likely continue to do so in the future. Restaurants and chefs that want to protect whatever intellectual property rights they have in their recipes generally do so, if at all, through trade secret law.12 This is because other forms of intellectual property, such as copyrights and patents, afford little protection to recipes.13

The New York courts generally invoke a six-factor test articulated by the Restatement of Torts for determining whether protectible trade secrets exist.14 The six factors articulated are: (1) the extent to which the information is known outside of the business; (2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in the business; (3) the extent of measures taken by the business to guard the secrecy of the information; (4) the value of the information to the business and its competitors; (5) the amount of effort or money expended by the business in developing the information; (6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others.15

The determination of whether protectable secrets exist in recipes can be difficult as court decisions are generally made ad hoc without a required list of dos and don’ts.16 As a result, restaurants and chefs can, and should, alleviate the uncertainty of a judicial decision through the use of non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements.17 Such agreements serve a dual purpose. First, they strengthen the case of protectable trade secrets through their efforts to keep the information secret. Second, they provide another avenue for possible relief for the plaintiff—namely, breach of contract.18

As a result, the outcome of this potential litigation could turn on whether or not such a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement, currently disputed, exists or was ever signed. If not, Prince Street Pizza might have to “fuhgeddaboudit.”

  1. See Carla Vianna, A Look at NYC’s Most Heated Restaurant Feuds, EATER (Jan. 16, 2019, 10:49 AM), https://ny.eater.com/2019/1/16/18178853/nyc-restaurant-feud-wars-recipe-lawsuits. [https://perma.cc/CW3Y-TCJS]

  2. See Legal Battle Heats Up Between NYC Pizza Shops Over Recipe, ABC7NY (Jan. 9, 2019), https://abc7ny.com/food/legal-battle-heats-up-between-nyc-pizza-shops-over-recipe/5042115/. [https://perma.cc/Y4M7-EGE9]

  3. See Rival Cries Pizza Plagiarism in Escalating War of Pepperoni Slices, CBS NEW YORK (Jan. 9, 2019, 4:58 PM), https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/01/09/pizza-shop-rivals-lawsuit/. [https://perma.cc/WF6V-VDEK]

  4. See Mike Mishkin, New Pizza Place on 80th & Amsterdam, I LOVE THE UPPER WEST SIDE.COM (Dec. 12, 2018), https://ilovetheupperwestside.com/made-in-new-york-pizza/. [https://perma.cc/5D8C-836Q]

  5. See Rival Cries Pizza Plagiarism in Escalating War of Pepperoni Slices, supra note 3.

  6. See id.

  7. See Jenny Miller, Ray’s Pizza Replacement Prince Street Pizza Opens Today, GRUB STREET (Jan. 4, 2012), http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/01/prince-street-pizza-menu-opening.html. [https://perma.cc/62G4-Z5YM]

  8. See Carla Vianna, Prince Street Pizza Claims Former Cook Stole Famed Slice Recipe for New Parlor, EATER (Jan. 8, 2019, 10:38 AM), https://ny.eater.com/2019/1/8/18172055/made-in-new-york-pizza-prince-street-spicy-spring-frank-morano-frank-badali. [https://perma.cc/6XGE-MYYJ]

  9. See Rival Cries Pizza Plagairism in Escalating War of Pepperoni Slices, supra note 3.

  10. See id.

  11. Khushbu Shah, Recipe Plagiarism in the Food World is Still Rampant, EATER (Mar. 19, 2015, 3:23 PM), https://www.eater.com/2015/3/19/8259393/recipe-plagiarism-in-the-food-world-is-still-rampant. [https://perma.cc/D3Y3-WDFM]

  12. Babak Zarin, Knead to Know: Cracking Recipes and Trade Secret Law, 8 Elon L. Rev. 183, 183–84 (2016).

  13. See id.; see also Lambing v. Godiva Chocolatier, 142 F.3d 434 (6th Cir. 1998).

  14. See J. Christopher Jensen et al., COMMERCIAL LITIGATION IN NEW YORK STATE COURTS § 105:6 (Robert L. Haig, 4th ed. 2018).

  15. See id.

  16. See id. at § 105:9.

  17. See Sam Bloch, Who Owns a Pizza Recipe?, THE NEW FOOD ECON. (Jan. 17, 2019), https://newfoodeconomy.org/new-york-city-prince-street-pizza-lawsuit/. [https://perma.cc/AP8Z-Q42X]

  18. See id.

William Massa

Billy Massa is a second- year law student at Fordham University School of Law, and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media, & Entertainment Law Journal. He holds a B.A. in Economics and an M.B.A. from Stony Brook University.