Garth Janssen, owner of Lost Dog Coffee, was totally surprised to receive a letter from a Virginia law firm demanding that he cease and desist using the name that has adorned his business for over 16 years.
The letter, penned by Richard Driscoll of Driscoll and Seltzer PLLC, cited that his client, The Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington, Va. has trademarked the name "Lost Dog Cafe" and that the use of Lost Dog by the Shepherdstown business infringes on his client's trademark rights.
The letter also indicated that the Virginia restaurant just "recently learned that you are using the name Lost Dog Coffee in connection with a coffee house restaurant..." Janssen claims that the cafe in Arlington has known about his restaurant for years.
"Over the years, employees from their restaurant have come here and we've joked about the name," Janssen said. "I think we've even traded t-shirts," he said.
Janssen said he is unsure why the issue of similar names has come up but says it may be attributed to the fact that the Arlington business has expanded. Currently there are three cafes operated by the Arlington owners, two in Arlington and one in McLean, Va. Speculation is that a fourth is slated to open in Dunn Loring.
Janssen shared the letter with a few customers and then included it on the Lost Dog Coffee website. The gathering of forces in support of the local business has been, in Janssen's words, has been overwhelming. A friend, Daniel Bennett, organized a website at www.lostdogcoffee.us, where a peition can be found supporting the Shepherdstown business.
"The comments on the petition site brought me to tears," Janssen said.
"We have worked so hard for this business, which is our sole income," Janssen said of the coffee shop he runs with his sons and dedicated employees. "I know at least two of my employees also depend on this job as their sole income. To have someone threaten that is so very sad."
Janssen said he will not comply with the request made by Driscoll. Local attorney Andrew Arnold has replied to the Virginia firm on Janssen's behalf.
The petition started by Bennett has more than 500 signatures along with comments, many from individuals who patronize the Arlington business but who say they disagree with the actions of the Cafe's owners, Ross Underwood and Pam McAlwee.
Attempts to reach the owners or their attorney have been unsuccessful. Messages left have not been returned.
Janssen indicated that he spoke once with Driscoll who told him that Janssen should simply comply because he doesn't "have a leg to stand on."
Janssen shared that he believes this type of "trademark bullying" goes on all too often. He said he also believes that it could be one reason why small businesses are drying up.
"This is not just a job for me," he said. A former university professor, Janssen said runs Lost Dog Coffee because he wants to, not because he has to.
"I have what I want," he said. "People who used to come in and could not see over the counters when I opened are now bringing their families in." Janssen is passionate about his role in the community and the feeling is mutual as visitors to his shop continue to say, "It's the best coffee ever."
"I have what I want and it's very sad that folks [like Underwood and McAlwee] who once had to be a small business have forgotten what that's like," Janssen said.
Those interested in following the battle between the Lost Dogs or offering support to Janssen can do so at www.lostdogcoffee.us.