By JOHN T. WARD
Nick Napoletano and Erica Lieberman opened of Cé La Vi on Monmouth Street in mid-April. The café marked the next step for an enterprise that started as a pastry shop called Whipped Bites in 2013, and now serves three meals a day as well as desserts and coffee.
But soon within days of opening, the couple received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer for Singapore-based Cé La Vi telling them the name of their restaurant constituted a trademark infringement, Napoletano told redbankgreen Monday.
At first thought the letter was some sort of scam, he said. But it turns out the company is real, and well-regarded, specializing in “iconic rooftop dining” in Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and elsewhere. And while it has no restaurants in the United States, it has a trademark here that’s locked up through 2022, he said.
The letter warned Lierberman and Napoletano to expect legal action if they didn’t change the name by May 8. They consulted a lawyer, who advised them they’d be better off complying with the demand than putting up a fight, he said.
So that’s what they’ll do, Napoletano said, though he admits to feeling bullied.
“Come on. I’m halfway around the world, with a little 40-seat restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey,” he said. “Am I really bothering you?”
The Atlanta-based lawyer who sent the letter didn’t respond to redbankgreen request for comment.
Ironically, perhaps, Lierberman and Napoletano chose the name Ce La Vi to be distinctive while making the French phrase for “that’s life,” “c’est la vie,” more easily understood by Americans who’d heard it but hadn’t seen it written out.
Oh, and by the way, “c’est la vie” is also off-limits namewise, Napoletano said he was warned.
“I’m not allowed to have anything that remotely sounds like it,” he said, incredulous. “How do they even trademark a phrase? People say it all the time.”
Oh well, c’est la vie. Goes to show you never can tell, right?
Meantime, he’s said he’s leaning toward “Ma Dom,” a (ahem) portmanteau of Madeleine and Dominique, the couple’s daughters, pronounced like the French “madame.”
He admits, though, that he hasn’t done a trademark search on that one yet.