So you want to brand your homemade jam? Or are you a chef and you just got a cookbook deal? Or maybe you’re a foodie who took a cheesemaking class and now you’ve perfected the craft and want to slap a label on your own cheese? Or perhaps you’ve bought a truck and want to make your version of fusion street food? The only problem is you’re clueless as to what to do about the legal issues involved with all these ventures. Don’t worry; it’s no problem for Brian Mencher and David Beame. The pair own an entertainment law firm with a focus on Food Artistry. What is Food Artistry law, you ask? It’s much more than applying for a liquor license.
The food lawyers represent clients in matters such as public appearances on TV, at cooking demonstrations and online blogging; publishing contracts for cookbooks and food writing; branding, with business planning, intellectual property issues and registering trademarks; help with starting their business; sponsorship and endorsement deals and much more!
Partner Brian Mencher, with a background in restaurants and cooking, understands the unique needs of clients in this area. While living in San Francisco, he fell in love with the food scene there. “There are gorgeous farmers’ markets,” he says. When a cooking school was opening there, he bartered his legal services for cooking classes. Here, he learned things like knife skills and sautéing. When they opened a wine bar, Mencher was asked to work the front of the house.
When he moved back to New York, he got a job staging at Bouley and was soon offered a position cooking on the line as possonnier entremetier (assistant fish cook) where his job was handling the garnish and the accompaniment to the fish dishes. After about four months, he reconnected with David Beame, who was a classically trained musician, to open a law firm focused on music law. “I represented mostly people in the music industry all the time having a huge passion in food,” Mencher says.
Food law typically entails assisting with liquor licenses, purchasing agreements and distribution agreements for purchasing food. “We wanted to focus on the entertainment aspect of food,” says Mencher. “People in the food industry are the new rock stars.”
Indeed they are and with this new celebrity comes the need for legal help. According to Mencher, food artistry comprises three things: business start-ups, contracts and intellectual property. “Whether it’s a food project at Brooklyn Flea or a food product–like ice cream delivery, it’s a business at the end of the day,” Mencher says. So his firm helps by handling state filings and internal documents, like licenses for home cooks. Contracts include book publishing and film agreements. Intellectual property issues come into play with specialty products and food trucks and carts. It includes the less obvious aspects of food artistry. “Like when restaurants create their own silverware,” Mencher notes.
Mencher and Beame created a Songwriters Law Seminar that they deliver in cities like Nashville and Los Angeles. Together, they created the Legal Smorgasbord, a seminar on the business and law of culinary artistry, that they gave at the James Beard Foundation.
“My vision has been a food law practice that specializes in this because we know the business; we’re passionate about the industry. I’d want the people who work for me to be passionate about what I do,” says Mencher.
And Mencher is passionate about the current food scene. He’s excited about Eleven Madison Park’s new concept. “I want the Broadway experience in food, but I also want to get Grimaldi’s pizza and sit by the Brooklyn Bridge,” he says. One of his favorite places is Blue Hill at Stone Barns. He says, “We’re connecting farms and chefs, celebrating farmers that are bringing heirloom seeds back.” He likes rooftop gardens. He appreciates the trend at Momofuku Ko and Brooklyn Fare where “the food is highlighted above everything else.”
To those in the culinary arts, Mencher encourages, “Find a trusting team. As a chef or someone who is creating constantly, you don’t necessarily have to know everything about the business. Find a team you can trust–people who can steward the business–while you work on the creative.”