Little food truck in big food fight

In August of last year, the Carmack's received a letter from Eataly's attorney saying their use of the Little Eataly is an "infringement" on Eataly's trademark rights.
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The owners of an Indianapolis food truck feel like David taking on Goliath.

When Chea and Rob Carmack began their food truck business three years ago, they never envisioned winding up in a food fight with celebrity chef Mario Batali.

But that's what happened when attorneys for Batali learned the name of the couple's food truck. It's Little Eataly.

Batali is co-owner of Eataly, a gourmet food market and restaurant center in New York City and a newly opened location in Chicago.

In August of last year, the Carmacks received a letter from Eataly's attorney saying their use of the Little Eataly is an "infringement" on Eataly's trademark rights. The letter accused the couple of "unfair competition and cybersquatting."

"At first we thought it was a joke," Rob said. "But the more I looked at it, I thought, 'No, this is on the level.""

The Carmacks hired a trademark attorney and the food fight escalated.

"They threatened to take our food truck and seize our assets and seize our domain and kick us to the curb," he said. "We feel bullied."

Rob said prior to naming their business they searched did a trademark and domain search for Little Eataly. They also checked Facebook and Twitter and he said it was all available.

"No one had it, so we went with it," he said.

The Carmacks' attorney has called the claims "without merit," noting the couple did the research and purchased the domain in good faith, saying it's "extremely unlikely" Little Eataly will create any confusion with Eataly.

While the couple's attorney tells them they have a very strong case, neither has the appetite for a long and costly battle.

"They don't have to be right. They just have to have money, which they do have a lot of," Rob said.

Chea, who always dreamed of owning a food-related business said, "It just breaks my heart, but what can I do? They're huge and it's crushed me because we've worked so hard to get where we are."

She and Rob say changing their name and everything it's on is a costly endeavor for small business owners. They say just changing the wrap on their truck will set them back $6,000.

Plus, Rob pointed out, "We're already marketed and branded. People know who we are in town. To change our name, we will lose some of our customer base because people won't know where we went."

Reached Thursday afternoon, Duane Byers, the attorney for Eataly said there was no compromise. Byers said his clients have the registered trademark for Eataly and "you can't just tag on to it," with little, big or anything else.

He said it was like opening a new restaurant and calling it "Little Pizza Hut."

Byers said letting the Carmacks continue using Little Eataly "harms our trademark and increases the likelihood of confusion" and a business "never wants to confuse consumers."

He said if the couple was selling "umbrellas" it wouldn't be an issue, but since they're selling food, it is.

Eataly's actions against the Carmacks come as Eataly expands into Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia.

"It makes me mad. I have a temper. I'm Sicilian," Chea said. "But more than anything, what can I do about it? I'm nobody. It's just little ole me."