Sebastian Gonzales is a 28-year-old former defensive end at Florida International University who knows how to eat. And when it comes to fast food, his allegiances are crystal-clear.
"I was obsessed with Chicken Kitchen and addicted to their food," he says of the South Florida chain. "I was eating there four or five times a week."
So a month and a half ago, Gonzales moved to Chile, where he decided to open a pseudo-Chicken Kitchen near the University of Santiago so he can peddle Mexican Wrapitos to South American college kids.
His soon-to-open restaurant, Chicken Paraiso — which will offer a menu and vibe eerily similar to its American inspiration — joins the surprisingly large pantheon of knockoff fast-food franchises that toe the delicate line of trademark law. It'll join a list of double-take-inducing international eateries like "McFoxy," a knockoff McDonald's in Kiev; and "Pizza Hat" and "Mash Donald's" in Iran.
Luckily for Gonzales, South America is mostly a free-for-all when it comes to intellectual property. In the United States, the test for trademark violation is that an average consumer must be able to discern the difference between the trademark and the copy. Only 90 countries are part of the Madrid Agreement, which binds them to the same trademark laws we practice in the States.
According to Andres Sawicki, a University of Miami law professor who specializes in patents and intellectual property, Chile is not one of those countries. In fact, throughout most of South America, anyone who wanted to open a bootleg Burger King or a wonky Wendy's there would be in the clear. It's the same reason Pizza Hat is still doing its thing in Tehran. "You could fight it, but you'd have to fight it in Iranian court," Sawicki says. "And that's no easy task."
The only example Sawicki could think of in which an American corporation successfully shut down a sketchy foreign counterpart had to do with an ersatz Walmart in a Mumbai, India, suburb.
Gonzales' parents, who live on Fisher Island, own a number of mines in Chile. They also own property. So while the restaurateur estimates it might have taken him $250,000 to get Chicken Paraiso running without a space to put it in, he's spending only 30K up front. He has friends who told him what kitchen equipment to go buy in Hialeah and chef friends who helped emulate the recipes. "It's not rocket science," he says. "It's chicken."
Chicken Kitchen President Christian de Berdouare did not return a request for comment. But is Gonzales concerned he might get shut down for emulating his favorite pollo chain? He says the eatery will be different enough that he's got nothing to worry about, differing international rules or not.
"It's like Pizza Hut getting mad that I've decided to make pizzas," Gonzales says. "I'm not worried about it at all."