McCurry making new plans after landmark court win

In the eight-year legal battle, the Federal Court unanimously dismissed McDonald’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s findings over McCurry’s usage of “Mc”, on the grounds that the questions posed by McDonald’s in the application were not properly framed. McDonald’s was also ordered to pay RM10,000 in costs to McCurry.
September 19, 2009

McCurry making new plans after landmark court win
Tee Lin Say

WHO would imagine that a little Indian curry house in dusty, bustling Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, would rattle the gleaming arches that dominate the frenetic and greasy world of fast food?

On Sept 9, when news broke that McCurry Restaurant (KL) Sdn Bhd had won a landmark case against McDonald’s Corp in the battle for exclusivity to use the “Mc” prefix, McCurry’s website crashed as people worldwide jammed up the server offering support and looking for details.

I’m lovin’ it! That perhaps sums up the feeling most have for McCurry’s triumph over McDonald’s.

While the issue may appear trivial – after all, it is about two letters of the alphabet – it has seen the world’s largest chain of fast food outlets take the little restaurant to court.

McDonald’s may serve more than 58 million customers in nearly 120 countries every day, but it lost anyway.

In the eight-year legal battle, the Federal Court unanimously dismissed McDonald’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s findings over McCurry’s usage of “Mc”, on the grounds that the questions posed by McDonald’s in the application were not properly framed. McDonald’s was also ordered to pay RM10,000 in costs to McCurry.

The two questions framed by McDonald’s were that once the prefix “Mc” was used by McCurry, the public in their mind, would associate McCurry with McDonald’s; and the usage of “Mc” would reduce the importance of “Mc” to McDonald’s.

Obviously, it hasn’t been easy battling a global business. Apart from hefty legal fees, the husband and wife team of A.M.S.P. Suppiah and Kanageswary had to put on hold their plans to expand the McCurry business.

But as they pick up the literal pieces and glass shards from the renovation works being carried out at their establishment in No. 86, Jalan Ipoh, it looks like they have been offered a new lease on life.

“We’re relieved its finally over. It has been a strain. Now we can focus on our plans. It has always been our intention to franchise the business,” says a glamorous-looking Kanageswary, who manages the restaurant on a daily basis.

Suppiah adds that since the victory, there have been many phone calls and queries on possible partnerships and franchising opportunities with McCurry Restaurant.

Back in 1999, Suppiah was toying with the idea of starting an Indian restaurant with a wide variety of chicken dishes. At that time, there was a push by the Government to consume more white meat.

“We wanted to start something that was clean, hygienic, with good quality food and that offered self service,” he says.

It was originally known as Restaurant Penang Curry House, but Suppiah changed the name to McCurry Restaurant after Suppiah had an epiphany.

He explains: “I used to study in New Zealand, and had a friend there by the name of Bruce McCurry. My children’s foster parents’ family name was McInnally. So I was already familiar with Scottish names. Then I thought, why not use McCurry as a shortform for Malaysian Chicken Curry? And bam! That’s how the name came about.”

Authentic South Indian cuisine

McCurry serves authentic South Indian cuisine such as fish head, mutton and chicken curries. There are also a variety of Malaysian food such as thosai, chapati, roti canai and nasi lemak. There was not a single dish that came close to any of McDonald’s offering.

“Our business took off with a bang. We were profitable from the start, so much so that our landlord doubled our rental within two years,” says Suppiah. He attributes the restaurant’s success to its cleanliness, brightness and quality of the food.

His wife oversees the restaurant and replenishes the food every four to six hours to ensure freshness and flavour.

“Our cooks come from India. We have 35 different types of specialised chicken recipes. On any one day, we serve 10 different sorts of chicken dishes. We also have a very extensive vegetarian corner,” says Kanageswary.

In 2001, claiming it had exclusive right to the prefix “Mc”, McDonald’s sued McCurry. “Business was still doing well, although we had to put our franchising ambitions on hold. However, when the court initially ruled in McDonald’s favour on Sept 7, 2006, our business began to be affected,” says Suppiah.

He was forced to change his signage from “McCurry” to “M Curry”. This was a significant blow because in Indian numerology, the “C” was significant for a thriving business. With the “C” dropped, the calculations were off-balanced. The dynamics of the business were modified almost instantly.

Suppiah says customers were unfamiliar with the new signage, and some thought the couple had sold off the business. To add to the woes, the landlord wanted another rental hike. Hence, the restaurant had to move from the prime corner location in No.102, Jalan Ipoh.

This was another blow to the business, as the new place lacked the pull factor and the parking convenience of the old money-making joint.

Despite such challenging times, the couple persisted and took their case to the Court of Appeal.

“Our friends told us we were crazy to go up against a giant. Many times, they told us to throw in the towel. ‘Stop wasting your time,’ they said,” Kanageswary recalls.

The couple’s determination was backed by a principle. “In our minds, we never felt we were doing anything wrong. People who come to our restaurant would never associate us with McDonald’s. Our patronage and dishes are also totally different (from those of McDonald’s),” says Suppiah.

The couple’s persistence paid off. In April 29 this year, the court ruled in favour of McCurry, and they were allowed to put the “C” back. McDonald’s, however, did not give up either and continued pursuing the case.

The battle finally came to an end on Sept 8 when the Federal Court ruled that the prefix “Mc” in McCurry did not constitute a trademark infringement as claimed by McDonald’s.

The publicity that followed was overwhelming, especially support from abroad. The phones have been ringing non-stop. The court decision has also been featured by the international press.

Many find inspiration in McCurry’s success. Supporters come from as far as Australia, New Zealand and even Canada. Kanageswary has since placed a guestbook at the restaurant to acknowledge the support of their well-wishers. So what is next?

Not surprisingly, Suppiah has received many business proposals to expand the restaurant, including franchising offers. Kanageswary is also planning to add new varieties to the chicken and vegetarian dishes.

Whether or not this spurt of publicity will see McCurry taking the next leap forward, for now, the restaurant can bask in the happy glow of the media spotlight.

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