Sushi restaurant ordered to change its sign
‘Word is clearly inappropriate’ says judge after complaints from landlord, tenants
A Montreal restaurant has been ordered to put up a new sign, after the name “Fukyu Bar à Sushi” was said to be in bad taste by a Quebec Superior Court judge.
Named after a type of kata practised in Japanese martial arts, “Fukyu” may have been a hit with certain diners who snickered and took pictures of the sign outside the recently opened Côte-desNeiges restaurant.
It was less amusing to the judge, who sided with the Jean Talon St. restaurant’s landlord and neighbouring tenants.
“As it is, the word is clearly inappropriate given its meaning when pronounced in a Montreal context,” wrote Judge Kirkland Casgrain in his Aug. 23 decision that gave restaurant part-owner John De Melo 24 hours to cover up the word “Fukyu.”
It’s an unusual case in commercial real estate, where disputes erupt between tenants over bad smells or loud noises, but rarely over signage, said lawyer David Ghavitian who represented the restaurant’s landlord L.G. Plaza Inc. While edgy branding has crept into retailing, like the company French Connection (FCUK), a play on the F-word doesn’t go over as well in real estate, where the ability to attract and keep tenants is key to a property’s value.
“It’s not so much for the tenants who are there, but it’s for the next tenants where there is a vacancy,” said Bernie Marcotte, senior managing director of Cushman & Wakefield Ltd. Montreal.
“If you’re an accounting firm, you might not want to be associated with that.”
Most commercial real estate leases not only have special clauses that oblige tenants to get their landlord’s permission before putting up a sign, but detailed guidelines as to what type of signage is appropriate, Marcotte said. The lease signed between De Melo and L.G.’s representative, Sam Rosenberg, included such a clause to “prevent situations like this,” Ghavitian said.
“As far as the signage, we have to be sure that it didn’t offend anybody because it would diminish the value of the property.”
In an interview, De Melo said he and his two partners chose “Fukyu” because of its Japanese origin and because he thought it would make the restaurant stand out in a city with countless sushi bars. It worked.
“We picked the name because it’s a Japanese sushi restaurant and of course, because it would turn heads,” De Melo said. “The word itself makes you take a second look. It was never intended to offend anyone.”
But in late July, the landlord began receiving complaints about the name from other tenants in the building, along with other companies that considered moving in, court documents filed by Ghavitian say.
The owner of one longstanding company i n the building, which has a business selling urns, said in a letter that while he found the name to be “highly amusing” on a personal level, it caused him professional problems given the sombre nature of his work.
“As we are in the funeral business, I am not so sure that giving directions to clients who have recently lost a loved one by telling them that we are ‘two doors down from Fukyu’ will go down very well with them.”
Following the court decision, the two sides have managed to come to an agreement. De Melo and his two partners have since ordered a new sign for the restaurant and have come up with a new name — Kabuki Bar à Sushi, named after the traditional Japanese theatre.
“It’s very fitting,” De Melo said. “Because this story was quite a drama.”