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Axel's Bonfire sues David's Chophouse for trademark infringement

Bonfire Restaurants recently settled a lawsuit against David's Chophouse for using Axel's trademarks after ownership changes took place earlier this year.

Bonfire claimed the Woodbury restaurant - formerly called Axel's at Prestwick - continued to use similar features, serve similar foods and violated competition laws, according to the federal civil suit.

But current David's Chophouse owner Dave Mooty, also owner of Prestwick Golf Club, said the lawsuit was unnecessary and could've been settled without the legal process.

"It was a waste of money and a waste of time in my opinion," he said last week. "I thought it was very unreasonable."

When the restaurant was first created in 2005, it was owned by a few different partners under the name Charlie Rae, Inc., which owned other Axel's locations at the time.

Bonfire Company bought Twin Cities Axel's restaurants in 2007, except for the Prestwick Golf Club location.

Instead, Axel's at Prestwick became a "sub-licensee" of the Bonfire Company and was able to use trademarks in connection with food preparation, sale and delivery, according to court documents.

Then in March of 2012, Mooty became sole owner of the restaurant and changed the name to David's Chophouse, which means he was no longer allowed to use Axel's trademarks.

"I felt that we needed to unite the restaurant and the golf course under common ownership," he said, adding, "We were paying thousands of dollars for the license fees and after Charlie and Linda (Young) and Mike (Gehlen) were no longer involved in the process. I didn't feel the license fee was worth it any longer."

The Youngs and Gehlen were the ones who opened the restaurant and partnered with the Bonfire Company to create other locations in the Twin Cities.

Mooty was concerned the cost of the license fee was more than the value of using the Axel's name, he said.

"We felt that it wasn't the same arrangement that we started out with in 2005," he said, explaining that the former owners became inactive in the restaurant operations.

Mooty changed recipes, the menu and the restaurant became David's Chophouse.

But that wasn't enough for the Bonfire Restaurant Company.

"Axel's at Prestwick has not fully complied with its termination obligations," according to the lawsuit. "And has instead been operating a restaurant under the name David's Chophouse that was and continues in part to utilize Axel's trade dress and trademarks."

David's Chophouse was no longer allowed to serve anything it served when it used to be Axel's at Prestwick, even if the recipes were different, Mooty said.

David's Chophouse had offered to settle things out of court, he said. His restaurant stopped serving certain butters with their popovers along with their Cajun steak bites.

"They felt that was too much like their Bull Bites," Mooty said.

But Bonfire restaurants claimed David's Chophouse was still violating United States competition laws, according to court documents.

"Anything that had been on the menu as when the restaurant was an Axel's, even though we changed all the recipes," David's Chophouse wasn't allowed to serve, Mooty said.

He added there also might have been some Axel's name references on the website and other hidden things that came up in search engines that he wasn't aware of.

Numerous attempts to reach Bonfire Restaurant Company's attorney for the case were unsuccessful.

Mooty, an Eden Prairie resident, has been operating the golf course since 1996.

Between 1996 and 2005, Preswick Golf Club was only serving snacks at a snack bar.

Mooty said he made improvements to the golf course a few years ago and as part of the overall renovations to the clubhouse, he sought to add a full service restaurant.

Then he entered into a partnership with Charlie Burrows, Linda and Charlie Young and Mike Gehlen, who were licensed to use the Axel's name at the time.

"We wanted to be tied to the Axels' brand back in 2005 because they have a very good reputation," Mooty said. "The personnel involvement of the three people that we had partnered with was no longer the same."

Because there is an Axel's Bonfire location in Woodbury, just on the other side of town from David's Chophouse, some patrons consistently confused the two.

The confusion was also part of Bonfire's claim - the company said David's Chophouse caused consumers to "erroneously believe" that David's Chophouse's foods, goods and services as "somehow sponsored by, authorized by, or are in anyway associated with Bonfire," the lawsuit states.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.