'Dumb Starbucks' taunts the real thing

A parody storefront in Los Angeles touts its free coffee as art -- and has a line out the door. The actual Starbucks is investigating.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 10, 2014 10:42AM
Credit: © David Livingston/Getty Images

Caption: A Dumb Starbucks Coffee Shop sign is seen on February 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif.By Ben Fritz and Julie Jargon, The Wall Street Journal

Is "Dumb Starbucks" performance art, marketing ploy, or something else entirely?

Residents of Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood were left to ponder a question with no immediate answers this weekend as a new coffee shop opened that resembled your typical Starbucks in every way, but the word "Dumb" in front of it.

"We are aware of it and looking into it," a Starbucks (SBUX) spokesman said. 

He added that Dumb Starbucks is  "obviously" unaffiliated with the Seattle based chain.

Dumb Starbucks offered "Dumb Vanilla Blonde Roast," "Dumb Chai Tea Latte," "Dumb Caramel Macchiato," and much more, all available in sizes "Dumb Venti," "Dumb Grande" and "Dumb Tall." 

Sitting on a shelf by the cash register were a selection of CDs, including "Dumb Jazz Standards," "Dumb Norah Jones Duets" and "A Dumb Taste of Cuba."

For the opening weekend, at least, everything was free -- probably the reason that the line on Saturday extended out the door, as word about the baffling new business spread on social media.

"Dumb Starbucks" was staffed by just two harried workers, who either couldn't or wouldn't offer much in the way of explanation. At about 5:20 p.m., the pair said they had run out of supply for the day and had to shut down, to the dismay of dozens of people still waiting for a free cup of dumb coffee.

A barrista who identified herself as Amber said she recently found the job online and was interviewed briefly by a man whose name she doesn't recall. Asked whether the store was some kind of artistic statement, she responded, "I don’t know. What is art? Maybe serving coffee is art."

Pressed further, she pointed visitors to a "frequently asked questions" handout. The paper says that Dumb Starbucks is using the Starbucks Corp. name and logo "for marketing purposes" and that it is legal because of "parody law" and the "fair use" doctrine.

Among its other explanations:

So is this a real business?

Yes it is. Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art. So, in the eyes of the law, our "coffee shop" is actually an "art gallery" and the "coffee" you're buying is considered the art. But that's for our lawyers to worry about. All you need to do is enjoy our delicious coffee!

Are you saying Starbucks is dumb?

Not at all. In fact, we love Starbucks and look up to them as role models. Unfortunately, the only way to use their intellectual property under fair use is if we are making fun of them. So the word "dumb" comes out of necessity, not enmity.

The sheet listed an email address at the bottom, an inquiry to which was not immediately returned.

More from The Wall Street Journal

Tags: SBUX
Feb 10, 2014 12:06PM

THis place is right next to McDougal's

Feb 10, 2014 12:04PM
What a dumb idea.....probably make millions....lol.
Feb 10, 2014 12:11PM
I would have called it "Ermagherd!  Sterberks!", but that's just me.

As long as they're not actually making money off of it (and it's hard to see how they could be, if they're giving their coffee away), the parody thing is a legit defense.

If they start actually seling coffee instead, and don't change the name... then they're in trouble.
Feb 10, 2014 12:19PM
In Thailand, right next to Starbucks, is a coffee place called Starbacks! I laughed when I saw that!

Feb 10, 2014 12:06PM
The only thing this coffee shop is brewing is a legal battle. Moronic or ingenious? Only time will tell.
Feb 10, 2014 12:12PM
I think the real Starbucks should do a parody of the Dumb Starbucks, and call it Dumber Starbucks.

You would probably have to be this way to go to any of the versions and actually pay for what they pass off as coffee.
Feb 10, 2014 12:45PM
Feb 10, 2014 12:20PM
Starbuck - one of the fighter pilots on the 70's show Battle Star Galactica.  He is gonna be frackin' mad when he finds out they named a coffee chain after him.
Feb 10, 2014 12:38PM
Amazing the amount of crap people can get away with by calling it "Art".
Feb 10, 2014 12:21PM
OK, so they couldn't come up with there own catchy name or logo, so they stole Starbucks logo an name, added dumb so they could "parody" it, and "not get sued" (Good luck with that one....) wow.. this is an epic fail and bankruptcy waiting to happen.
Feb 10, 2014 12:16PM

if saturday night live did it ,,, you would be laughing your arses off ,,,, so start laughing


Feb 10, 2014 12:13PM
uh , really ?  If this is allowed , guess it's ok if I  open a "stupid McDonalds" , right ? This one , as they say , " ain't gonna fly" , lol 
Feb 10, 2014 12:33PM
I find the name confounding. I thought "Dumb Starbucks" would be run by people who were completely silent at all times. Wouldn't it be better to call it "Stupid Starbucks"?
Feb 10, 2014 12:29PM
"Not at all. In fact, we love Starbucks and look up to them as role models. Unfortunately, the only way to use their intellectual property under fair use is if we are making fun of them. So the word "dumb" comes out of necessity, not enmity."

So you're saying that you wanted to steal the brand but couldn't legally... so the clear solution was to creatively find a way to instead of.. come up with new name, logo, and environment?

I'm sure Starbucks would license a franchise so you didn't have to steal their property.
Feb 10, 2014 12:06PM
Litigate, litigate, dance to the music...
Feb 10, 2014 1:17PM
How "DUMB" is that? Wish I had those kind of 
great ideas.
Feb 10, 2014 12:43PM
this will last about as long as it takes to sneeze.  The logo, the name, the colors, the font, the placement of the words.   this is what attorneys live for, easy cases.  I'll take a grande, please.
Feb 10, 2014 12:56PM
Just goes to show you how "dumb" people are in this World and how unjust and corrupt our legal systems are... Let's just "Dumb" everything down, or should I say UP in this matter... Now we can ALL capitalize! Don't worry though, because legislature will come in and write law for its own capitalization and screw us all once again at some point!
Feb 10, 2014 12:45PM
Save those grounds.  We need'em for tomorrow!
Feb 10, 2014 1:28PM
ROTFLMAO! Anything to irritate Starbucks is good! lol
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