'Dumb Starbucks' linked to comedy duo

DUMB STARBUCKS: People queuing to get into the parody coffee shop weren't served gourmet fare.
DUMB STARBUCKS: People queuing to get into the parody coffee shop weren't served gourmet fare.

It's a caffeine-charged Hollywood whodunit: Just whose bright idea was the "Dumb Starbucks" coffee shop that popped up and started serving free drinks from the corner of an otherwise uncelebrated strip mall.

Filming permits show that the coffee shop generating the buzz is tied to a comedy production company.

The store opened on Friday and has been giving away free drinks while getting lots of attention.

Permits obtained on Monday by The Associated Press show that filming was authorised at the location three times in the weeks before the store opened.

The permits were taken out by Abso Lutely Productions.

The company is run by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, a comedy duo known as Tim & Eric who have done movies and television shows.

In reply to an email from the AP, "Bad Starbucks" said it would be making an announcement later on Monday.

The real Starbucks has said the parody infringes on its trademarks.


On Monday morning, a line from the store wound alongside the parking lot and up the block, with some patrons stepping out to snap pictures in front of a green awning and mermaid logo that is familiar - except that the word "Dumb" is prominently featured.

They weren't coming for gourmet fare: Their descriptions of the coffee ranged from "horrible" to "bitter," and one parent said his daughter complained that the hot chocolate was like water.

Instead, they are just coming to say they came, and to score a white paper cup with a sticker bearing the curious logo.

"It was a pretty dumb idea to come out in the cold" and wait for nearly two hours to get a coffee, joked Anthony Solis, who lives in nearby Hollywood.

One nearby merchant said someone had been selling cups for US$5 ($6) each to people who didn't want to wait.

There was no shortage of ideas among patrons. Speculation ran from the creative (must be a project by British street artist Banksy) to commercial (must be marketing for some sort of project, probably comedic).

The store's decor is reminiscent of a real Starbucks, complete with a huge menu on which most of the drinks were prefaced by "dumb" ("dumb iced coffee," "dumb white chocolate mocha"). One exception was the "Wuppy Duppy Latte," which the menu said would have sold for US$6 had the store been charging anything. The cash register was dark, though the tip jar was bulging.

In a statement on Monday, Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks said it has no affiliation with the Dumb Starbucks.

"While we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark," spokeswoman Laurel Harper said in an email.

She added that most trademark disputes are handled informally, suggesting the company might not need to take legal action, though Starbucks had not yet succeeded in contacting those behind Dumb Starbucks.

An email from The Associated Press to an account identified with the new store was not returned.

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."

One law professor suggested that Dumb Starbucks needed to sharpen up its legal theory.

"Fair use" can protect parodies of copyright material, but a trademark such as the logo has different protections that Dumb Starbucks may well be violating, said Mark McKenna, a trademark law expert at the University of Notre Dame.