The Original Vincent's Clam Bar in Carle Place has a message for The Original Vincent's in Manhattan: Clam up.
A federal judge has ruled that the Carle Place eatery is the only one that can call itself "original" - even though the Manhattan location predates the Carle Place restaurant by 75 years.
The Little Italy restaurant opened in 1904, but a new owner decided to start a franchise chain - including one in Carle Place - in the early 1980s using the same name.
Now, U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Townes has ruled that the Carle Place restaurateurs own the right to the name "Vincent's Clam Bar," along with any derivative, in a Sept. 28 decision dismissing a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by the Little Italy Vincent's.
The Manhattan restaurant can continue to call itself Vincent's, but the judge's decision bars it from using "original" or "Established 1904" any longer.
"It's not just the name," said Anthony Marisi, who owns the Carle Place establishment with his brother, Robert. "It's about the whole concept. You want to have that 1904 heritage."
The ruling caps a trademark dispute that has been cooking for more than 16 years between the two Vincent's, which are no longer affiliated.
The two families that own the restaurants acquired them in similar deals from owner Andrew DeLillo, the man who franchised the brand. In 1983, the Marisi brothers bought Vincent's in Carle Place but allowed DeLillo to keep the rights to the name, agreeing to use only "Vincent's Clam Bar" for their location.
Two years later, the Generoso family purchased the Mott Street location in Little Italy from DeLillo and also did not buy the name rights. Instead, they agreed contractually to use one of three names: Vincent's Clam Bar, Vincent's Clam Bar of Mott & Hester Streets or Mott & Hester Restaurant.
In 1992, however, the Marisis bought the rights to the name "Vincent's Clam Bar" and all of its derivatives.
When they sought to trademark "The Original Vincent's Established 1904" the following year, the Generosos - who had been using that name for several years, despite their 1985 deal - opposed them.
The restaurants engaged in a protracted trademark battle that ended in a 2002 patent office appeals board ruling in the Generosos' favor. The Generosos then sued the Marisis for infringement in 2005.
Townes, however, found that the appeals board ruling was faulty and that the Generosos should remain limited to the use of only the three names in the 1985 contract.
Mike, a manager at the Little Italy restaurant who declined to give his last name, said the eatery plans to appeal. The lawyer representing the restaurant, Dennis McCooe, did not return a phone call, and a spokeswoman for his firm said he would have no comment.
During lunch at Vincent's in Carle Place recently, Joseph Errigo, 79, remembered eating at the Little Italy Vincent's in the 1950s before moving to the suburbs and to a new Vincent's. "It just seems silly to me," the Huntington resident said of the name dispute.
The couple met the Little Italy owner by chance and, thinking he actually owned the Carle Place location, effusively praised the restaurant as their favorite lunch spot before he informed them that his business was in Manhattan.
In the end, Marisi said, he doesn't believe the restaurants should be at odds, because their fates are somewhat intertwined.
"I hope they are nothing but successful, because their success affects our success, and our success affects their success," he said.