When it comes to artery-clogging fast food, does "intellectual property" have a place in the decadent dining discourse? The suburban Phoenix-based and Houston-headed (maybe) Heart Attack Grill is claiming sole rights to terming menu items with references to triple bypasses.
The issue is gaining national attention now because of a case in New York.
But few know that this issue of contention landed in Houston in 2010 when a legal representative of Heart Attack Grill dispatched a series of letters to restaurants nationwide. During that tirade, Houston's own beloved Dry Creek and Hubcap Grill came under Heart Attack's attack.
"The day we received that letter was the day we took it off the menu," says Hubcap's Richard Craig. "We had to get a new menu board after they threatened to sue in a court out in Arizona."
Realizing that the likelihood of winning a suit in Heart Attack Grill's district was not in the business' favor, the triple-decker burger dubbed the Triple Bypass Burger was erased from Hubcap history — the item isn't even available under a different name or off menu. Instead, customers can now order the "Triple Heart Clogger" and "Quadruple Heart Clogger," which includes a beef patty, grilled hot dog, bacon and cheese (the latter option also comes with a slather of chili).
Craig says that the HAG attorney sent 500 litigious letters to all 50 states. "They got a trademark, so I guess nobody else can use it," he tells CultureMap. "Just like we can't call a burger a Big Mac."
To resolve the moniker debacle, the Seattle-area John Howie Steak held a contest to rename its Triple Bypass, which consisted of a patty coated in cheese, tempura fried bacon and onion rings, served between two cheddar and Swiss grilled cheese sandwiches. Still, the Triple Bypass remains an item at the Heights mainstay, Dry Creek. Their rendition is accompanied by one fried egg, cheddar cheese, bacon and Tabasco mayo.
"It was on our menu before his. And our restaurant was open before his," Melissa Mackey of The Creek Group, which operates Dry Creek along with Canyon Creek, Cedar Creek and Onion Creek, tells CultureMap. "A company contacted us saying it's their invention, but when we went back to the copyrights and timing, we saw that we had it first."
Most recently, the cross-country clash over the rights to "heart attack"-dubbed dishes is being played out against New York-based 2nd Ave Deli.
At Heart Attack Grill, visitors who weigh in excess of 350 pounds may indulge in "all you can eat, every day, all day, every night, all night" food free of charge. Its menu boasts the simple, double, triple and quadruple Bypass Burgers, which can contain up to 8,000 calories. Also on the breastaurant's menu are Flatliner Fries, which are deep fried in 100 percent lard. Jolt Cola and unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes, all doled out by waitresses dolled up in racy nurse attire, round out the meal.
If "patients" finish one of those triple or quadruple bypasses, waitresses will wheel them to their vehicle in wheelchairs.
So, can the nearly 60-year-old New York deli compete? Its owners think so, as they asked a federal judge on Tuesday to declare that its own Instant Heart Attack Sandwich — pastrami, corned beef, turkey or salami stacked between two fried potato pancakes — is not an attempt to imitate Heart Attack Grill.
Needless to say, Heart Attack Grill isn't pleased with 2nd Ave Deli's plans to launch a Triple Bypass Sandwich (which 2nd Ave says is kosher, and completely different from the meat-and-milk mixing Triple Bypass Burger at Heart Attack).