The founder of Miss Chu, the iconic takeaway brand closely associated with its creator, finds herself entangled in a protracted legal dispute regarding her entitlement to employ her name and image in branding. Tragically, the recent collapse of a company with spiralling costs amounting to $1.8 billion has left dreams shattered and promises unfulfilled for those significantly affected by these events.
Nahji Chu, the distinguished founder of one of Australia’s most recognisable takeaway enterprises and a former refugee, has been compelled to defend her use of her name and image after ceding ownership rights to the Miss Chu Vietnamese tuckshop chain. Despite the business entering administration in 2014 with debts exceeding $4 million and subsequently being acquired by Ms Chu’s partner Gabriel Machado, she has turned her attention to the development of Lady Chus catering services and the launch of a sous vide product named ‘Just Add Water’. Her appearance on SBS Insight, discussing the impact of her business failure on her life journey, demonstrates the resilience of this tenacious entrepreneur who refuses to yield to adversity.
Attorneys representing Mr Machado have issued a legal missive to Ms Jelinek, demanding that she refrain from using her surname or an image linked to the Miss Chu brand. Lawyers from DC Strategy assert that such actions infringe upon their client’s ownership rights over the trademark and slogan “You Ling We Bling”. They emphasise that individuals and entities are only permitted to employ either with obtaining written authorisation. Moreover, they contend that Ms Jelinek’s new tagline, “You Rrring We Bring”, and the name Lady Chu are uncomfortably similar to the Miss Chu brand. They urge an immediate cessation of such activities to avoid further conflict between the involved parties.
Concerns have been raised that consumer confusion may arise due to the well-known association between Miss Chu’s restaurant business and Ms Chu herself. Ms Chu declared her intent to proceed, Undeterred, stating, “I welcome the lawsuit.” Intriguingly, in an unusual twist, the case may hinge on whether an individual or company can claim rights over an official document – such as a refugee visa prominently featured in Miss Chu’s brand identity. Responding to a query from news.com.au, Ms Chu observed that technically neither Mr Machado nor she possess ownership, with the government being the rightful owner.
Although Ms Chu registered a trademark for her brand using an image derived from her refugee visa issued by the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, she contends that it is not subject to intellectual property rights. This captivating fusion of branding has piqued the interest of marketing scholars. “The government could have said ‘hey, you can’t do this’ at any time,” she remarked about her unique trademark.
Ms Chu has insisted that her face and surname remain her exclusive property, emphasising the importance of creativity and originality in a society where imitation and claims of ownership are rampant. Although she has not yet engaged legal counsel, Ms Chu expressed confidence in her ability to prevail in any court action and encouraged her adversaries “to go for it”. Noting that the image of Lady Chu no longer resembled the original photo from her visa, Ms Chu commented, “She’s gone punk; she doesn’t even have a face.” She expressed discontent with the modifications made by Mr Machado’s brand without proper authorisation or compensation for usage rights.
In 2014, Ms Chu, the Queen of Rice Paper Rolls, suffered a significant setback when her business entered voluntary administration after failing to negotiate.