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CALABASH—When it comes to use of the business names “Miss Calabash” and/or “Mrs. Calabash,” who’s got the right?
According to two longtime Calabash restaurant owners, nobody has the right but them.
Cousins Shaun Bellamy and Crystal Coleman-Nixon, respective owners of Ella’s and Beck’s and Coleman’s Original Calabash restaurants, said they recently filed for trademark rights to the names.
Their action came after learning owners planned to name a new restaurant in town “Miss Calabash.”
Restaurant owner Mike Abdou said this week he and his partner, Ahamed “Mike” El Rayes, had decided on that name for their new seafood-and-steak buffet restaurant at 10001 Beach Drive because of its local appeal and interest.
He said there were already several male “Captain” monikers on local eateries, but no female names like Miss Calabash. Then there was the local appeal of that name often tied to a visit late entertainer Jimmy Durante is said to have made to Calabash decades ago, resulting in his trademark signoff, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”
Abdou said there were no problems when El Rayes and he applied for a business license for the future “Miss Calabash Buffet & Grill.” The town granted a business license on March 19.
Town clerk Kelley Southward said the town doesn’t regulate names or trademarks. She said town employees might alert an applicant only if they know of a business that is already using the same name.
After learning about the new restaurant coming to town, Bellamy and Coleman-Nixon said they applied for trademark rights to both “Miss Calabash” and “Mrs. Calabash.” They sought help from Washington, D.C., attorney William J. Sauers.
On April 11, Abdou received a Fed-Exed letter addressed to El Rayes and himself from Sauers.
“We write on behalf of our clients Shaun Bellamy and Crystal Coleman-Nixon, the owners of the well-known Mrs. Calabash and Miss Calabash restaurants located in Calabash, North Carolina,” Sauers wrote.
“Our clients are the exclusive owners of the trademarks MRS. CALABASH and MISS CALABASH in connection with restaurant services as well as related goods and services, which they have been using since 1942,” Sauers wrote, referring to the name “Miss Calabash Marks.”
“My clients have acquired extensive rights, including a reputation for quality restaurant services and other goodwill, in the Miss Calabash Marks,” Sauers wrote.
The new restaurateurs’ intention to use “Miss Calabash” in their business name is likely to cause confusion “as consumers may incorrectly conclude that your restaurant or related services are either licensed or sponsored by, or in some way affiliated with those offered by my clients,” Sauers wrote, and would infringe on his clients’ “senior ownership, use of and rights in the Miss Calabash Marks, to their irreparable injury and significant damage.”
Sauers added his clients have invested significant time and resources establishing “Miss Calabash Marks” as “a source for their restaurant services.”
He asked the new restaurant owners to immediately cease-and-desist from any planned use of “Miss Calabash” or “Mrs. Calabash.”
Bellamy said the issue isn’t about another business coming to town.
“We really do want our area to grow—we want more businesses,” Bellamy said Monday. “All the restaurants get along. They borrow from each other. It’s positive competition.”
At issue is “we didn’t want someone to come in and capitalize on our family history,” she said. “We didn’t want people to come in and see ‘Miss Calabash’ and think that must be where Jimmy Durante ate.”
She said they use the Miss/Mrs. Calabash moniker on the walls at Ella’s, and there was also the family’s “Miss Calabash” shrimp boat.
Bellamy said her great-aunt and Coleman-Nixon’s great-grandmother, Lucy Coleman, was known as Mrs. Calabash based on the story about Durante visiting Coleman’s restaurant in the 1940s.
Bellamy said they have variations of the claimed name on their menu, shirts and cocktail sauce they market.
“We’re not trying to be ugly, because we want [business] to grow,” Bellamy said. “But at the same time, we don’t want someone to represent what we stand for.”
Sauers, contacted Monday in Washington, said he has no comment on the status of his clients’ claims to the Miss Calabash and Mrs. Calabash names and referred a reporter to the U.S. Trademark Office website.
“I represent my client—I don’t speak on behalf of my client with respect to the press,” Sauers said.
Sauers said a trademark application has been filed, though a reporter could not find it Monday on the U.S. Trademark Office website.
Abdou said he also requested proof of trademark claims to the Miss Calabash name from Sauers but has not received a response.
After receiving Sauers’ letter, Abdou said El Rayes and he changed the name of their new restaurant to “Calabash Seafood Restaurant” and had to change to the new name on their signs. The new restaurant opened this past Saturday.
Abdou, who owns several restaurants in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, said if he finds out the “Miss Calabash” name isn’t trademarked, he hopes to use it after all.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email email@example.com.