Celebrity chef George Calombaris has been firmly in the media spotlight this month, following the shock collapse of his restaurant group, MAdE Establishment, which reportedly owes creditors more than $22 million.
But back in 2012, the former Masterchef judge was making headlines for an entirely different reason: ice cream.
From the SmartCompany archives, this article details the legal stoush between Calombaris and ice cream business Mr Whippy over a dessert served in one of Calombaris’ Melbourne restaurants. The matter was later settled out of court for several thousand dollars.
MasterChef’s George Calombaris has been accused of “bullying tactics” after becoming embroiled in a legal dispute with Mr Whippy over a dessert served at one of his Melbourne restaurants, St Katherine’s.
Mr Whippy Pty Ltd filed a claim in the Federal Magistrates Court this week claiming the dessert, dubbed “Mrs Whippi” and sold for $9.50, is a trademark infringement.
Calombaris initially called the ice cream dessert “Mr Whippy” but changed the name to “Mrs Whippi” in May this year after a complaint from Mr Whippy.
But Mr Whippy’s director Stan Gordon decided to sue after he received a letter from Calmobaris’ lawyers which claimed Mr Whippy had “no relevant reputation”.
“Your client has never sold its desserts in restaurants and especially not in high-profile restaurants operated by celebrity chefs. It has no reputation in this market,” the letter from Calombaris’s lawyers stated.
Gordon describes the letter as “the most arrogant piece of correspondence I’ve ever read”.
“It basically said you are not a celebrity and we we’ll do whatever we want,” he says.
Gordon says it was at this stage that he decided to issue legal proceedings.
“It was arrogant and bullying tactics. I don’t know who George Calombaris thinks he is but he wakes up with bad breath just like everyone else and he’s a human being like everyone else,” says Gordon.
Gordon’s Franchise Food Company bought the brand Mr Whippy back in 2000 and “paid a lot of money for it” with 30 Mr Whippy stores across Australia.
Gordon says he doesn’t want to go to court and would prefer to sit down and resolve the dispute with Calombaris.
“I will protect my brand but I don’t really want to be a nasty bloke,” he says.
“We own the brand so if he likes to use it we would come to an arrangement, if he buys me lunch once a month I would be quite happy,” he says.
“If he took it off the menu and paid all our legal costs to this point then that would resolve it. I don’t want to go to court.”
“It’s not a matter of whose got deeper pockets, it’s a matter of who is right.”
Calombaris was unavailable for comment but has been making his feelings known via Twitter, telling his 22,000 followers that he dislikes people that “use others as a publicity stunt for their own benefit”.
“As a chef you pay homage to nostalgia and childhood memories,” he tweeted.
“My solicitor said that I look good in a wig and gown, which is good, as I am always prepared to fight for my integrity.”
A spokeswoman for Calombaris’ Made Establishment Group, Lauren Calleja, told SmartCompany she was unable to comment as the matter was with solicitors.
Subsequent legal proceedings may also be pending as the dispute appears to have attracted the attention of KFC, as the St Katherine’s restaurant also offers “KFC”-styled items on its menu.
“I think he has bigger problems coming, as I know he is doing it with KFC and I have just got a message from KFC’s legal representative,” says Gordon.
SmartCompany contacted KFC but did not receive a reply prior to publication.