Pirate Joe’s sets sail for fast food giants

Cover story published in 24 Hours Vancouver | November 7, 2013 | Circulation: 280,000+

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On the heels of retailer Pirate Joe’s U.S. court victory against health food giant Trader Joe’s, owner Michael Hallatt has set course for another bounty — a healthier riff on a popular fast food chain.

Instead of golden arches, the Vancouver entrepreneur imagines a giant block letter “M” atop his quick-service restaurant, possibly named “Black M Burgers.”

Hallatt’s vision is to offer speedy dining with a rooftop garden, grain-fed organic beef burgers, locally grown toppings and even gluten-free buns.

“It’s basically to show McDonald’s what they should be doing,” he said. “We’re not copying McDonald’s. It will be slightly different.”

Hallatt was vindicated in a Washington state court on Oct. 2, when a judge dismissed Trader Joe’s lawsuit claiming he violated their copyright by reselling their products without permission. The chain has no outlets in Canada.

McDonald’s, however, does. A lot of them.

“They’ll probably sue me, but I’ve been there and I’m not afraid,” Hallatt said.

Emboldened by his win, he plans to work on his fast food “experiment,” possibly opening an outlet as soon as next summer.

“Sometimes you gotta grab something, put it in your mouth and keep going, but we’re running short on (healthy) options.”

Vancouver intellectual property lawyer David Wotherspoon told 24 hours that even though Hallatt’s win over Trader Joe’s was no surprise, McDonald’s may be quite a different matter because of how much business it does here.

“Is somebody going into Pirate Joe’s ‘M’ restaurant going to be confused into thinking they’re in a McDonald’s restaurant?” he asked. “Or would they think it’s somehow approved, endorsed or affiliated with McDonald’s? That depends on how they build it.”

Along with healthy food, Hallatt also plans to add some humour.

“You’ll walk in and you’re gonna laugh,” he said, listing such ideas as swinging chairs, burgers sliding down a stainless steel ramp and goofy uniforms.

“You can’t help but be completely aggravated hearing about the food system,” he said. “This whole experience with Pirate Joe’s has given me a taste of retail activism.”

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