IT WAS a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: who created the “Dumb Starbucks” coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated California shopping centre.
After several days of speculation, the news came yesterday: the shop was a Canadian comedian’s publicity stunt.
Nathan Fielder told a crowd he was pursuing the “American dream” – before acknowledging that he planned to use the bit on his Comedy Central show “Nathan For You”.
Soon after, Los Angeles County health inspectors shut it down for operating without a valid permit.
For much of the weekend, a queue from the shop wound alongside the parking lot and up the block. They weren’t coming for gourmet fare: their descriptions of the coffee ranged from “horrible” to “bitter”.
Dumb Starbucks opened on Friday, and interest grew over the weekend with a boost from posts on Twitter and Facebook.
Once opened, Dumb Starbucks caught the attention of the real Starbucks.
“While we appreciate the humour, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” spokeswoman Laurel Harper said. She added that most trademark disputes are handled informally, suggesting the company might not need to take legal action.
At the front counter, a frequently asked questions sheet said the store was shielded by “parody law”.
“By adding the word ‘dumb’, we are technically ‘making fun’ of Starbucks, which allows us to use their trademarks under a law known as ‘fair use’,” the sheet said.
It continued: “In the eyes of the law, our ‘coffee shop’ is actually an art gallery and the ‘coffee’ you’re buying is considered art. But that’s for our lawyers to worry about.”
Fielder told a news conference yesterday that he didn’t need Starbucks’ permission and he was glad they had not pursued a “case they know they can’t win”.
Soon after, he said city health inspectors had arrived and told his staff that they had to stop serving drinks.