United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action, Plaintiff, Cava Group, Inc. (“Cava
Group”), alleges that Defendants Mezeh-Annapolis, LLC,
Mezeh-Wheaton, LLC, Saleh Mohamadi, and Steve Walker
(collectively, “Defendants”), unlawfully
infringed on Cava Group’s trademark and trade dress.
Cava Group and Defendants have each moved for summary
judgment. ECF Nos. 45 & 46. Both motions are fully
briefed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule
105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons that follow, Cava
Group’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied, and
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, in
part, and denied, in part.
2011, Cava Group opened its first fast-casual restaurant-Cava
Mezze Grill-in Bethesda, Maryland, serving Greek- and
Mediterranean-inspired food in an assembly-line style, the
service style popularized by Chipotle Mexican Grill.
See ECF No. 46-2 at 13, 20, 54; see also
ECF No. 45-4 at 20. Since then, Cava Group has opened several
more fast-casual restaurants in various locations throughout
Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and, most recently, in
California. ECF No. 46-2 at 55-56; see also ECF No.
45-3 at 2. The fast-casual restaurants were inspired by Cava
Group’s more formal, sit-down restaurant, Cava Mezze,
which serves Greek-and Mediterranean-inspired small plates.
ECF No. 46-2 at 10. The word “mezze, ” according
to Cava Group, means “small plates.” See
Id. at 38.
Group is the owner of United States Registration No. 4, 059,
522 (“the ‘522 trademark”) for the stylized
service mark, CAVA MEZZE GRILL, for restaurant services
featuring take-out Mediterranean cuisine, wine, beer and
liquor. See ECF No. 45-3 at 7. The colors black,
white, and orange are claimed as features of the
mark. The mark consists of the word
“CAVA” in capital letters colored white, except
for the letter “V, ” which is in orange. The
phrase “MEZZE GRILL” is positioned under the word
“CAVA” and written in smaller font and colored
white. All of this wording appears on a black background. The
trademark registration indicates that the English translation
for the word “cava” is “cave” and the
translation for the word “mezze” is
“appetizer.” Id. The registration
further indicates that Cava Group makes no claim to the
exclusive right to use “mezze grill, ” apart from
the manner in which it is displayed in the mark. Id.
The ‘522 trademark as it appears on the registration is
ECF No. 45-3 at 7." The United States Patent and Trademark
Office ("PTO") issued this registration without
requiring proof of secondary meaning. ECF No. 45-3 at 3.
first several locations of Cava Mezze Grill used similar
exterior and interior features. See ECF No. 46-2 at
56-58. Specifically, the exterior of the restaurants feature
a dark hardwood fa9ade with the stylized logo "Cava
Mezze Grill, " matching the font style and coloring of
the '522 trademark, as shown below:
ECF No. 45-3 at 6. Dark reclaimed wood is used in the
interior of the restaurant, along with brushed black metal.
ECF No. 46-2 at 56-58, 63, 65. The exterior appearances of
more recently opened Cava Mezze Grills differ from the
original renditions, however. Specifically, some stores use a
white background for the exterior façade with black
lettering for the “Cava Mezze Grill” logo, with
the same orange “V.” Id. at 61-63.
Others feature the standard white-and-orange font colors, but
on a metal bar, rather than a black background. Id.
at 66. The differences in exterior design choices are
attributed in part to differing landlord restrictions on what
color and design concepts can be featured on the exterior of
a particular building, and in part to the aesthetic design
choices of the Cava Group team in conjunction with their
architects and design experts. See Id. at 62-65.
Additionally, newer locations feature an open kitchen
concept, so that customers can see food being made from
scratch. Id. at 71.
the Cava Mezze Grill restaurants utilize the assembly-line
concept, in which patrons of the restaurant can customize
their selections to their taste. A customer first chooses a
base-a pita, salad bowl, rice bowl, or mini pitas-and then
can choose from a variety of spices, proteins, other
toppings, and sauces. ECF No. 45-3 at 3. The selection of
proteins, which includes lamb sliders, chicken, braised beef,
gyro meat, falafel, and grilled meatballs, are served out of
cast iron pots. Id. These options are reflected on
the restaurants’ takeout menus that are used at all
Cava Mezze Grill locations. Id. at 3. The takeout
menus are thin rectangular cards that feature a dark
background with the white-and-orange “CAVA MEZZE
GRILL” logo at the top, akin to the ‘522
trademark. Id. at 3-4, 11-12. The remainder of the
text on the menu features the same white and orange colors.
Id. at 11-12. On one side of the takeout menu
appears the phrase, “IT’S WHAT’S ON THE
INSIDE THAT COUNTS.” Id. at 12. Cava Mezze
Girl’s takeout bags use the same phrase. Id.
ECF No. 45-3 at 11-12.
addition to its Cava Mezze and Cava Mezze Grill restaurants,
Cava Group sells various dips and spreads in various grocery
stores on the East Coast. ECF No. 45-3 at 4. The labels on
most of those items feature the same colors that appear on
the Cava Mezze Grill storefronts, namely, black, white, and
orange, and consist of the word “CAVA” in the
same standard, block capital letters colored white, except
for the letter “V, ” which is orange. The word
“mezze” is positioned under the word
“CAVA” in a white font color. One dip, a roasted
serrano hummus, is similar, although the words
“CAVA” and “mezze” are in a black
font, with a white “V” in the word “CAVA,
” on an orange background. ECF No. 45-3 at 13.
Id. at 13.
Mezze Grill advertises itself on social media platforms,
including Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare, with the
username “Cava Grill.” See ECF No. 49-2.
Mezeh-Annapolis, LLC is a Virginia limited liability company,
while Defendant Mezeh-Wheaton, LLC, is a Maryland limited
liability company. ECF No. 48 at ¶¶ 7- 8; ECF No.
54 at ¶¶ 7-8. Defendants Mohamadi and Walker are
members of the LLC companies. ECF No. 45-4 at 3. In 2013,
Defendants opened a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant
called Mezeh Mediterranean Grill (“Mezeh”) in
Annapolis, Maryland, and, later that year, opened another
location in Wheaton, Maryland. Before then, Mohamadi and
Walker had owned franchises of various fast-food restaurants
for several years, but decided that they wanted to create
their own brand. See Id. at 6-7. Before coming up
with the Mezeh concept, Mohamadi and Walker visited multiple
Mediterranean restaurants in and around Washington, D.C., New
York, and Chicago, including Cava Mezze Grill. Id.
at 9. Both Mezeh restaurants use the assembly-line process,
in which a customer selects a base, such as a pita, wrap,
bowl, rice bowl, or salad bowl, followed by various meats,
toppings, and sauces. Id. at 13. At first, the Mezeh
restaurants used cast iron pots to serve the proteins, but
found that they were not practical and could not keep the
food hot. Now the proteins are served from stainless steel
containers. ECF No. 45-5 at 9.
word “Mezeh” is a play on words, meant to signify
the word “mezzeh, ” which, according to Mohamadi,
who grew up in Afghanistan, means “taste.” ECF
No. 45-4 at 5, 8. The word “mezze” and
Defendants’ trade name “Mezeh” are
pronounced the same. ECF No. 45-4 at 8; see also ECF
No. 45-5 at 13. Defendants are the owners of United States
Registration No. 4, 778, 385 for the word “MEZEH,
” though no colors or other stylization are associated
with the mark. ECF No. 46-5.
have stylized their logo to include the word
“mezeh” in a lower-case font with every-other
letter colored white, while both “Es” are orange.
Underneath the letters “eze” is a smile-shaped
curve, also colored orange. See ECF No. 45-4 at 12;
ECF No. 45-5 at 8. Underneath and to the side of the word
“mezeh” is the language “MEDITERRANEAN
GRILL” in a smaller font with white lettering.
See ECF No. 45-6. This is the logo that appears on
the façade of both Mezeh locations, which use dark
wood or laminate backgrounds on their signage, as shown
below. The same dark wood or laminate material
that is used on the façade is used in the kitchen, as
well. ECF No. 45-4 at 12.
ECF No. 45-6.
logo also appears on the top of the current rendition of
Mezeh’s takeout menu, which are thin rectangular cards,
similar in shape to the Cava Mezze Grill takeout menus, with
a black background and white and orange font colors.
See ECF No. 45-9. Although the original version of
Mezeh’s takeout menu, which was created by a consultant
for Defendants, was a tri-fold menu using multiple colored
fonts, including pink, green, orange and blue, see
ECF No. 45-10 at 26; see also Id. at 14-15, Mohamadi
eventually changed the takeout menu to its current rendition,
ECF No. 45-4 at 22, as shown below:
ECF No. 45-10 at 26 (original Mezeh takeout menu design); ECF
No. 45-9 (current takeout menu design).
to Mohamadi and Walker, decisions made during the development
of the Mezeh logo were made by a design consultant hired by
Defendants, General Design Company, whose decisions Mohamadi
and Walker deferred to. See ECF No. 45-4 at 12, 15.
When Defendants started working with General Design Company,
the Cava Mezze and Cava Mezze Grill websites were referenced
as concepts that Mohamadi and Walker liked. See ECF
No. 45-4 at 27-28; ECF No. 45-10 at 6. Although General
Design Company presented Defendants with various color
options for the logo, such as green, pink, and blue,
see ECF No. 45-10 at 23, orange was ultimately
chosen. The design company brought to
Defendants’ attention the fact that the Cava Mezze
Grill logo uses a color somewhere on the yellow-orange
spectrum, and so a darker shade of orange was ultimately
settled on for the Mezeh logo. Id. at 10.
least some social media accounts, Mezeh uses the username
“MezehGrill.” See ECF No. 45-4 at 17.
Although Mezeh does not use the phrase “It’s
What’s on the Inside that Counts” in any of their
designs, the phrase ...