McDonald's, McDharma's in Big McBattle Over Name

LIVE OAK - McDharma's restaurant is bad for McDonald's karma.

The owners of McDharma's, a vegetarian fast-food restaurant, are having a McBattle with the multi-million-dollar hamburger chain over their restaurant's name. McDonald's claims McDharma's names misleads the public, creating confusion between the restaurants.

There's not much similarity, however, between Dharma dogs and Brahma burgers - two of McDharma's vegetarian specialties - and Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

But owners Bernie Shapiro and Daniel Prather aren't losing any sleep over the issue. In fact, they're enjoying the free publicity they're getting.

"We're honored that they would pick on us," said Shapiro. Prather added, "We're just trying to ride the wave. Business is really picking up. But the whole thing is a joke. Every single person that comes in and hears about it, can't believe it."

According to Prather, McDharma's name comes from the Eastern philosophical word "Dharma," meaning to live in balance with the Earth or right livelihood. They added the prefix "Mc" to it since it implies fast food.

The owners said McDonald's has not sued yet, but the pair have received intimidating letters threatening action, and an offer of a "minimal" amount of money for them to change the McDharma's name.

John Horowitz, an attorney for McDonald's at the chain's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., could not be reached for comment. Terri Capatosto, media relations director for McDonald's, could not say positively whether any compensation had been offered.

"If we did, it was simply a gesture of goodwill on our part," she said. "We're simply trying to be fair about it."

However, Shapiro and Prather have the letters to prove an offer was made. While declining to disclose the amount, Shapiro said, "We're willing to take the money or, at least, consider taking it. We don't want an exorbitant amount, but we would want a reasonable amount. Now, they're virtually offering nothing."

McDonald's has already won one battle. The hamburger conglomerate successfully prevented McDharma's from receiving a copyright and trademark for its name by challenging the registration application with the federal registrar's office in Washington, D.C.

That means only that McDharma's is not copyrighted and that other businesses can use the name. As for forcing McDharma's to change its name, that's another battle.

We've had the business - and our name - for five years," said Prather. "They really have no case. All they can do is take us to court."

Capatosto contended that McDonald's simply doesn't want the public to be misled regarding McDharma's.