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September 2, 2014

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Food faceoff: Giada at the Cromwell vs. Giada’s Italian Cucina in Anthem

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Steve Marcus

Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis waves from the red carpet as she arrives during the VIP grand opening of Giada, the first Giada De Laurentiis restaurant, on Monday, June 2, 2014, in the Cromwell.

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Daniel Convertino owns Giada’s Italian Cucina in Anthem.

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Giada’s Italian Cucina in Anthem.

Any confusion of having two restaurants with Giada in the name in Las Vegas is likely to now be resolved as Daniel Convertino, owner of Giada’s Italian Cucina in Anthem, says that he’s ready for a resolution with Food Network celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis.

I reported the story of the confusion between Giada’s Italian Cucina on Anthem Village Drive with the new Giada at the Cromwell. Now Daniel is willing to break bread, sip wine and offer an olive (oil) branch to find peace with the TV star chef.

By night, Daniel is host, manager and waiter at his bistro in the southeast. By day, he owns Fantasy Car Rentals, Las Vegas Exotic Car Rentals, Elite Car Rentals and Rent Event Las Vegas with cars that are $425 to $1,895 daily for exotic Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porches (VegasExoticRentals.com)

Daniel describes himself as a “buyer and seller of businesses — it’s what I’ve done all my life for a living.” Now in an exclusive interview, here is Daniel’s side of the story with the rival celebrity restaurant:

How long have you been in business in Anthem?

We’ll be there five years Aug. 1 for the restaurant and one year for the bar.

You were hoping to be featured on “The Hungry Investor” and “Mystery Diner” before the controversy flared up. Were you trying to raise financing?

I believe that I lost both shows because of the situation. All I wanted was to get some exposure for my restaurant because they air so many times a year. It would have been wonderful publicity. I didn’t need money.

I am a man of business means. I own four of five Italian exotic car rental agencies here in town. The restaurant is basically a hobby of mine, like most Italian boys to pay tribute to my grandparents. One of them happened to be named Giada; that was her nickname.

I own the restaurant, but the new chef has been with me since January, and business has been booming since then. Last December, I decided to get back to basics and when I hired him, he just knocked it out of the park. We’ve been back on track ever since.

When you heard from the lawyers from Caesars Entertainment in January, did they ask for a solution to the similar-name problem?

They just sent a letter, then immediately after it, I got a letter from somebody representing Miss De Laurentiis. I believe, based on our conversation, that he might even have part ownership in her restaurant. He told me that he wanted me to change the name; I told him that I wasn’t going to do that.

Then he wanted me to sign an agreement that we wouldn’t open any more restaurants under that name; I told him that I wouldn’t do that. He told me that he didn’t want me to go on the Strip. I told him that I didn’t have a problem with that. His concern was that people would associate my restaurant with hers. I informed him that based on the four years that we were in Henderson, I don’t think anyone mentioned her name twice.

He said we cannot use the name, we cannot use any of her likeness. We’ve never used any of her likeness. He was concerned about us getting bad reviews and that they would reflect on him. I said that doesn’t happen because if you look on Yelp, I haven’t had a bad review in a long time.

The day after your story came out, they got a three-star rating on Yelp, but it was put on my restaurant. They said that the food was expensive. I don’t think mine is. I found out because someone came in and asked, “Since when do you put shrimp in your calamari?” My customer said she’d read that in a review also on Yelp.

We get numerous phone calls. It’s funny because Caesars owns the building that she’s in and obviously promotes her heavily, but I must get, this is no exaggeration, I get about seven phone calls a night from the Caesars properties trying to make reservations for her place using my phone number.

I’ve never taken a reservation for her. I just say, “Are you looking for Giada on the Strip?” And they say yes, and I say, “I’m not that. You’ll need to call them.” They ask for the number, and I say that I don’t know.

I’ve had people be quite rude saying how come you don’t know the number, and I say that I just don’t have it and I don’t want to be accused of giving out a wrong number. I’ve been telling them to just call the Cromwell and ask for the switchboard to put you through to their reservation system.

Even their concierge called me, and I have a situation because my high-end exotic car rental agency is the premier and preferred vendor for Caesars and MGM. So it leaves me in a predicament because obviously I don’t want to alienate any of those people.

Giada VIP Grand Opening at Cromwell

Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis waves from the red carpet as she arrives during the VIP grand opening of Giada, the first Giada De Laurentiis restaurant, on Monday, June 2, 2014, in the Cromwell. Launch slideshow »

2014 VUBBA: Pink Hard-Hat Tour of Giada

Giada De Laurentiis conducts a pink hard-hat tour of her new restaurant Giada on Friday, May 7, 2014, at the Cromwell in Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

It’s an interesting story of mistaken identities, but how best to make nice, coexist and avoid this confusion?

I don’t know because I didn’t realize there was going to be this much confusion. I’ve obviously sought legal counsel. If I wanted to be a sticky wicket, I could tell her that she can’t use the name, and I would have every right under Nevada law to do that. But I’m a businessman; I’m not foolish. It costs lots of money, and she probably has more than I do.

I have no problems with her at all. I don’t know the lady; I’ve never gone to her restaurant. I’m sure that she has great food and has a completely different business plan than what we do. We’re a neighborhood bar, I go to every table, I talk to all my guests. If you’re not happy, you don’t pay, although we don’t have that problem because the food is good, and we now get excellent reviews on our food.

When I was talking with her attorney, we got pretty heated. I’m willing to work with them, but they can’t restrain me. I’m in the process of buying another restaurant. I have an investor who wants me to open in Summerlin, and I want to call it Giada. They said that they would prevent me from doing that, but I don’t know how they really can. He asked if I want to be bought out, but I don’t really want to sell.

We’ve never tried to infer that we are her; we never say that we are. Since her restaurant opened, we’ve had five or six people ask what the relationship is, and I say no relation. This was my grandmother’s nickname — for the jewel jade — and my menu is based on her Saturday and Sunday dinners like most Italian boys do. As her restaurant gets bigger, we get more phone calls for her. We know when someone calls and makes a reservation for 10, it’s highly unlikely it’s for us, so I just don’t take the reservation.

I have no problem with co-existing and having the names clearly separated. I don’t know how we can do that because when you call, you don’t say Giada: “I’m looking for the Giada restaurant.” Most people will put that S on the end, and there’s the confusion. Originally I heard through the grapevine because we have connections at Caesars through my car rental agency that she wanted to call it Giada’s Cucina.

So someone typed in Giada’s Cucina, and my corporation in Nevada pulled up, and that’s when I got the first letter. What kind of got me really upset is that I lost the two TV deals; I could have used that publicity; that would have been obviously favorable to me to just have the name out there. I understand what they’re doing. I would protect my trademark; they don’t have one.

I’m in the process of getting the name trademarked also with the font and colors. When the trademark came up for approval, there was no conflict, and they didn’t even mention them. The closest thing I got was a place called Giada’s Travel Land, which I guess is a travel agency somewhere in the Midwest. That was really the only thing that they thought was confusing.

It’s obvious that there’s no confusion about the look and appearance of the two restaurants. It’s obvious that there’s no confusion about the number of seats. It’s obvious that there’s no confusion about the prices or the menu items. So I wonder what you think of the confusion?

The only confusion I see now is with the phones. I can usually tell when the phone rings. If it’s not a 702, it’s someone calling for them.

Have you watched Giada’s shows on television?

I’ve probably seen her three times in my whole life. I mean she’s just like me. She’s cooking Italian, she’s cooking recipes that her grandmother had. God love her, she’s got her own show. There are a million people out there like me who have these neighborhood restaurants. She got lucky on TV, and I’m not. I think she’s a beautiful woman, God love her that she’s turned the concept of cooking into a multimillion-dollar business.

I have no malice toward her whatsoever. I wish her nothing but the best of luck. I’m going to open up another one, and that might be even more confusing, I don’t know. I’m not going to stop doing what I do because of her, and I don’t expect her to stop what she’s doing because of me.

Giada was my grandmother’s nickname; that’s what we say on the menu. It’s been on the menu from day one all those years ago; it’s the story of my reasoning for opening the restaurant. Every dish has a story about it. How I set the table has a story.

How I set the napkins together so they kiss because that’s how my grandfather used to tell my grandmother how much he loved her when he set the table. She’s more than welcome to come to my humble little restaurant, or I’ll go to her place and sit down with her. I have no problem with it.

So, Daniel, you would be OK to sit down with them and find a way to avoid any further confusion?

Sure, I have no problem with that whatsoever. None whatsoever. I welcome it.

* * *

We’ll keep watch on this developing story and report its hoped-for conclusion.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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