Moby Dick’s Restaurant Barred as an Offensive Name

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – A business in Vancouver, B.C., has sued its building council for blocking the lease of its restaurant property to “Moby Dick’s” fish-and-chips franchise, because the council says the word “Dick” is offensive.

Plaintiff Mengfa International bought a unit in a commercial building in 2010 and in 2014 leased it to an Asian-fusion restaurant, “The Change,” for five years. The Change fell on hard times, though, and in May 2015, Moby Dick Restaurant, a fish-and-chip franchise, agreed to a lease and purchase arrangement.

The building council wouldn’t allow it. It insisted “that the word ‘Dick’ in Moby Dick was an offensive term,” Mengfa says in its Jan. 9 lawsuit.

The defendant is The Owners of Strata Plan LMS 4025.

A strata corporation in Canada is a legal entity with all the powers of a natural person. It may be created to divide a building or buildings or land into “separate components that are individually owned and common components owned by all of the owners,” according to a British Columbia government website on housing and tenancy.

The owners council also claimed a Moby Dick sign would hurt the value of neighboring properties, and that the restaurant would bring increased litter and violate city laws on odor.

Mengfa finds that hard to believe.

It says that the Moby Dick name and logo are “not offensive to the public, given its literary significance and fame.”

Plus which: “A seafood fish-and-chips restaurant at the commercial property, being itself surrounded by the ocean and harbor, would not devalue the real estate property.”

Mengfa and Moby Dick’s submitted several sign and renovation plans to the council in the summer of 2016, but all were denied.

“It was clear by the end of August 2016 that the Strata intended to refuse any signage proposals belonging to Moby Dick which resembled its traditional trademark and brand,” the complaint states. “Instead, the Strata demanded that Moby Dick adopt a signage that was ‘minimalist’ both in color and design. As such, the Strata wrongfully denied Moby Dick’s use of its logo, brand name, and goodwill recognition at the commercial property.”

Mengfa seeks declaratory judgment and damages for interference with business relations. Its attorney Glen Forrester did not respond to a request for comment. The Strata council’s manager did not return a voicemail message.

Herman Melville didn’t have much better luck with “Moby Dick,” though it became many critics’ choice for the mythical Great American Novel. Published in 1851 as “Moby Dick, or the Whale,” only about 3,200 copies were sold during Melville’s lifetime, and in his old age its publisher dumped the unsold copies on him, which he had to buy, under terms of the contract.

The story, of course, tells the tale of Captain Ahab, obsessed with finding and killing a great white whale which cost him half a leg. The book ends with its narrator (“Call me Ishmael”) floating on a coffin in the ocean after Moby Dick smashes the whaling ship and kills everyone else in it.

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