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Taylor's Automatic Refresher and Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet
A name change at the Taylor’s Automatic Refresher eateries has created a bit of legal wrangling between the former owners and the current operators. The restaurant at the Oxbow Public Market, shown here, has yet to receive the new sign, Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet. J.L. Sousa/Register

What seemed like a simple name change for a popular local burger joint has become a battle between the founder’s family and the two brothers who transformed the sleepy Upvalley roadside stand into a modern-day culinary hit with three locations. 

The family that started Taylor’s Refresher restaurant in St. Helena 60 years ago and owns the rights to the name expressed “outrage” at current owners Joel and Duncan Gott for changing the name of the business. 

Jean Taylor Nicholson, 83, and Virginia Taylor Toogood, 80, the daughters of Taylor’s Refresher founder Lloyd “Popsy” Taylor, said the name change wipes out the good name of their father’s original drive-in and its place in St. Helena history.

“We are shocked and angered by this announcement and will fight to protect our family name and reputation,” Virginia Toogood said in a prepared statement. “Taylor’s Refresher has a long and cherished history in St. Helena that will be irreparably damaged by this. This is like changing the name of the Martini Winery, the French Laundry or any other historic business in our community without consent. It’s not right. We own the property and the name, not the Gotts.”

The Gotts announced this week they are changing the name of the restaurants to Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet. They cited legal reasons, a reference to a four-year-old trademark infringement case that started after the Gotts expanded the brand. In a prepared statement issued Friday, Joel Gott wrote that the brothers decided to change the name of the restaurants “to avoid any further controversy.” 

The U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruled in 2008 that the sisters are the legal owners of the trade name and mark “Taylor’s Refresher,” and that the Gotts are using the name in St. Helena under a license from the sisters. The Gotts’ appeal of the ruling is pending in San Francisco federal court.

“In the meantime we are moving forward,” Joel Gott wrote in an e-mail. 

 “At some point soon, we would like to expand to other locations, and while this is being settled by the lawyers, we have decided make the change,” Gott wrote.

Signs at each Taylor’s location have been covered up or changed, and new menu designs distributed. On Thursday and Friday, the newly named Gott’s restaurants hosted parties to announce the name change. 

Generations of local residents and travelers have patronized the hamburger stand that Popsy Taylor first opened in St. Helena in 1949. According to a press release, Virginia and her late husband, Charley Toogood, took over the restaurant in 1968 and, with other family members, operated it for the next 30 years. In 1999, the sisters leased Taylor’s Refresher to the Gotts, who renovated it before reopening as both Taylor’s Refresher and Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. 

A press release from the Taylor sisters said Nicholson and Toogood were “surprised and embarrassed” to learn that the Gotts were opening a new Taylor’s Automatic Refresher at the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. Three years later, the Gotts opened a third Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.

“While Nicholson and Toogood receive percentage-based lease payments from the original St. Helena restaurant, they have received nothing from the Gotts for the use of the name in San Francisco or Napa. The sisters want to protect their trademark, name and value of the St. Helena restaurant for their families and heirs,” the release said.

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