Indie café challenges US coffee brand over name

15 March 2023 by
Indie café challenges US coffee brand over name

The founders of an independent café in London have launched a legal challenge against a North American coffee chain in a branding dispute.

Husband and wife team Warner Newman and Samantha McKinson lived in a shelter before opening Blank Coffee as a cart in 2015 and then as a café in Brixton in 2018.

In June 2022, the New York-based Blank Street Coffee, founded by Vinay Menda and Issam Freiha, launched its first UK store in London's Fitzrovia after securing $25m (£20.6m) funding the previous year.

Over the past nine months, it has expanded to 11 sites across the capital, including in Shoreditch and Notting Hill.

The pair from Brixton are resisting the registration of the Blank Street Coffee trademark in the UK on the grounds that they have an earlier right to the name Blank Coffee.

They also argued that the similarities in branding between the two stores caused Blank Coffee reputational damage and confused customers.

Newman said customers had repeatedly come in and congratulated Blank Coffee for opening new sites that did not belong to them.

He told The Caterer: "For the first nine months, people [were] bringing in their chocolates and cards, and we're all just sitting there in awe. This is not us. How could this be possible?"

He added: "If you own something and you worked hard to build it why not protect it? That's the number one reason behind this."

He said the local community had shown the brand "incredible support", with loyal customers promising to "come down more often" to Blank Coffee.

The pair are funding the cost of the legal action themselves and said they have no intention of turning to crowdfunding to cover the costs.

"For now, it's all on us and it's a lot of pressure", said Newman, who has been taking on extra shifts with McKinson to balance out the costs.

A spokesperson for Blank Street Coffee stated: "Blank Street Coffee was founded in May 2020 in New York and we're proud of the brand we've built and grateful to the customers we've served.

"Blank Brixton has made numerous false claims that we strongly refute. We hope to find a resolution to the IP dispute soon."

Blank Street Coffee has until mid-April to respond to the opposition to tis trademark registration.

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