The Tao/TAO tussle is national news, with Huff Post Food and Grub Street New York the most recent to chime in on the absurdity. From Grub Street: "Of course, only one of these places sells Kobe sirloin at $19 an ounce and allows ladies in bikinis to sip Bacardi Razz and ride inflatable dolphins carried around the patio by hairless male models." Huff Post points out "a cursory Google search has led us to various other food-related companies called Tao including a health food store, a San Diego restaurant and a tea company."
How about one step further - other restaurants named Tao? A quick search turned up Taos in San Diego, Peoria, Az., Evans, Ga. and Syosset, N.Y. None of these seem to have the provenance that chef/owner Cara Stadler - who studied at Le Cordon Bleu, staged with Guy Savoy and worked in Gordon Ramsay's Au Trianon Palace - brings to Tao in Brunswick; perhaps that's why the Golaith TAO has decided to pick on her? One of TAO's lawyers, Howard J. Shire of Kenyon & Kenyon in NYC told the The Bangor Daily News that although he couldn't comment on this lawsuit, "TAO Licensing has pursued or is pursuing similar actions against other restaurants that use "Tao" in their names." None of them turned up on the web or have made the news.
Stadler says she came across "a lot of Taos" as she and her parents Cecile and John Stadler were preparing to open their Tao. "Ours means 'peach' and is based on a Chinese fable; theirs (the Vegas and NYC TAOs) means Tao as in the way or the path ? we chose it because my grandfather chose it. Long-term, it's about a man finding peace in a peach grove."
The theme dovetails with her vision for the future. "We own the lot behind us and we want to open a big greenhouse," she says. But not just any greenhouse – a "living roof" on top of an apartment building, with greenhouse solar-paneled glass, that generates electricity and helps grow vegetables, too. "The idea is to create a zero carbon footprint ? farm to table in the back lot. That's where we want to be going. Creating eco-systems that sustain themselves by working with each other."
For now, Stadler and her sous-chef, Saskia Poulos, who both live in Portland, pick up produce themselves at the farmers markets in Portland and Brunswick and choose their fish daily from a market on Commercial Street. They "fluctuate with the mini seasons" and change the menu every week. "We do all of our shopping, because Brunswick doesn't have the same delivery ability." Cecile takes care of picking up the lobsters, from West Point near the family home in Phippsburg. Through the winter, Stadler says "we are going to hold strong" and continue to stay open Tuesday through Saturday.
"I've been going to Brunswick my whole life and it's changed so much. The food scene has just blown up for such a small town. The community has been incredibly supportive across the board from the day we opened - a lot of support from the local restaurants, which has been really nice."
Thanks in part to that support, Stadler was surprised by doesn't seem overly rattled by the lawsuit, which she says she and her parents only found out about when she got calls from The Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. "That was the biggest shock. They wanted me to comment and I couldn't because I didn't know anything about it."
"They're protecting their name," she says of plantiff TAO Licensing LLC. "All of these businesses named Tao are small businesses. You can't afford the lawyers so you can't go down that road. It is what it is. They're protecting their name and they feel that people are going to be confused and I don't see how, but that's the way it is." Stadler said two law firms offered their services pro bono and as of last night, Verrill Dana of Portland would be representing them in the case.
All of this brings her back to why she chose to open her own restaurant in Maine after moving around the world, both with her family and on her own. Her roots in the state go back a long way on her father's side – the Stadler family has been in Phippsburg for four generations.
"I was running four restaurants for a very big restaurant group in Shanghai before I left and I came back here and worked at 555 very briefly. I realized I still have tons to learn but I can do a lot of learning on my own ? sooner or later you have to take the plunge. I staged around at Bresca – Krista is a brilliant chef – and at Hugo's. There was a position at Bresca but it wasn't going to be open for three months and we found this location ? everything just fell into place."
After Paris, Beijing and running a supperclub with her mother in Shanghai, Cara Stadler has clearly found her place. Cecile — according to her daughter an accomplished cook who never wanted to do it professionally "because she felt it would take the joy out of it," — runs the front of the house. "We fold (Grandma Tang's roast pork) buns together every day and she critiques the food and voices ideas." John handles the business side. In the four months since Tao opened, it has garnered raves from Maine Magazine's Joe Ricchio and Brian Duff of The Portland Phoenix. An Associated Press travel piece on Brunswick that highlighted the restaurant ran in a number of major newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
"I love it here; it's beautiful, the food is amazing," says Stadler. "I lived in a lot of major, major cities, and after leaving China where the air is so terrible and coming to Maine where it's the complete opposite. - relaxed, beautiful and so clean ... It's so full of so much culture, for being so small. Thriving arts scene, music scene and arts scene. As a chef, the raw product you get here is outstanding, you can't really ask for more. (Pause)? except for the winter. Hence the green house."
· Tao Nightclub Sues Tao Restaurant In Maine For Trademark Infringement [HPF]
· Tao Restaurant Group Sues Tiny Maine Restaurant For Infringement [GSNY]
· National Chain Sues Brunswick's Tao Over Name [BDN]
· All Coverage of Tao [~EMAINE~]