Dumb Starbucks

Emily Hepner
Features Writer

Delicious, tasty, energizing, delightful, distinctive, gratifying. These may just seem like a string of adjectives thrown together, but they actually have some meaning behind them. These are commonly used adjectives to describe Starbucks’ drinks (or at least descriptions this Starbucks drinker would use). But one word that frequent drinkers of this well-known coffee chain wouldn’t use is “dumb.” However, one inventive comedian has a new coffee shop in town called “Dumb Starbucks.”

When this comedic coffee stunt first opened up, many thought it was an artistic protest against Starbucks as a way against consumerism, but in a way they were some-what right. In order for the shop to legally run, “Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorize as a work of parody art,” states the shop’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Because they’ve placed the word “dumb” in front of every signature Starbucks title, and they mean everything from drink sizes (“dumb venti”) to the CDs they offer in the shop (“Dumb Nora Jones”), it is seen as a parody, states USA Today. But is this enough to keep them out of legal troubles?

One lawyer thinks not. “My gut tells me a court would be bothered by how much of the trademark was used,” says University of Notre Dame law professor Mark McKenna. While the owner, Nathan Fielder comedian and host of the Comedy Central show Nathan For You, claims that everything is legal, McKenna brings up a fair argument. Besides the word “dumb” being placed in front of everything, there is virtually no difference between his Los Angeles located shop and any other Starbucks chain, except for the quality and taste of the drinks.

Dumb Starbucks places the word dumb in front of every signature drink.
Dumb Starbucks places the word dumb in front of every signature drink.

According to the New York Daily News, one patron claimed their hot chocolate from Dumb Starbucks “tasted like water.” Other opinions on their drinks ranged from being “horrible” to “bitter.” Nonetheless, this didn’t stop locals from waiting hours in line just to get a taste.

So how is the Starbucks everyone knows and loves reacting to all of this? “While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” they claimed in e-mail to the Associated Press. Something like this will be handled more informally and through e-mail. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time that Starbucks has had trademark troubles.

In 2013, a small bar owner was sued by the corporation when he called a beer created by a customer, a mix of vanilla crème and a chocolate ale, “Frappicino”, claims CNN. While this is a letter short from being the signature Starbucks’ drink “Frappucino,” when pronounced it sounds identical. So to end the legal drama with Starbucks, the bar owner sent them an “apology” letter and the amount of profits he made off the drink, a whopping $6.

But one would think that a whole shop dedicated to parodying Starbucks’ drinks would be doing much better than the “Frappicino” man. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Just a few short days after opening up shop, the Los Angeles health inspector shut them down for not having a valid permit. This isn’t stopping Fielder; he plans on moving the branch to New York. “We’ll see how it goes in Brooklyn” he told a reporter after the shop was shut down. Hopefully for Fielder things aren’t so “dumb” in New York.