盐SALT, a popular and much awarded contemporary restaurant in Beijing, closed just two weeks ago in preparation for a move to a new location, but prospective customers could be forgiven for missing that fact, as an exact duplicate has opened in its old location.
According to the owners, the restaurant was basically stolen by their landlord and a former employee, who colluded to force the restaurant out of its original space so they could reopen it and run it themselves.
"盐SALT Contemporary Cuisine has just become aware that ex-employee Lucy Wang (who had been working for SALT for seven years until she quit in February) and landlord Mr. Xin (who forced us to leave our location by doubling the rent and previously demanding extra payments for the past three years) will open their own restaurant today at 9 Jiangtai Xi Lu, pretending to be 盐SALT Contemporary Cuisine," the original owners said in a press release. "Please be aware that this restaurant is not 盐SALT Contemporary Cuisine. We closed our Lido branch two weeks ago. They have effectively stolen our business and are operating completely illegally."
The name 盐SALT Contemporary Cuisine is trademarked and patented by owner Gaby Alves, who is still operating the company’s catering business with executive chef Camila Betin. Alves said she contacted her lawyer after the fake SALT opened, but the lawyer will not return her calls and was apparently in on the plot with Xin and Wang the whole time.
Alves said she is looking for new representation to win back the restaurant’s name and all the associated items that were stolen along with it, but these sorts of suits can be difficult in China. According to the Global Times, ugly breakups between foreign and Chinese partners and legal fights over trademarks and stolen restaurants happen pretty regularly in Beijing.