On Friday, Dumb Starbucks opened in Los Feliz. This parody of the ubiquitous Starbucks chain serves up coffee with a side of confusion. To add to the mystery, the owners are currently anonymous. The employees do not have mush insider knowledge and were hired through Craigslist. The coffee shop also lacks a food grade certification and business license.
Yet, the absent owners attempted to clear up the matter with by posting a Frequently Asked Questions list. Primarily, Dumb Starbucks emphasizes that they have no affiliation with the real Starbucks and are protected under fair use and parody law. They claim that adding the word “Dumb” in front of every Starbucks item grants them the right to use Starbucks’ logo without securing rights from the corporation. While this may be true, it seems hard to believe that a corporate giant like Starbucks will allow this faux-coffee shop to stay open for long. According to Southern California Public Radio, Starbucks did not offer comment.
Despite the Dumb Starbucks name, the venture claims “love Starbucks and look up to them as role models.” But, in order to use the Starbucks logo, they need to parody it, “the “Dumb” comes out of necessity not enmity.” If this is true, why not call the coffee shop “Great Starbucks” or something similar? This would sidestep any possible slander claims and make their (apparent) affection for the coffee giant clear.
The most puzzling aspect of Dumb Starbucks is that it legally classifies itself as an art gallery and the coffee they serve is art. This allows the establishment to be protected under parody law. While performance art is nothing new, the idea that this establishment is emulating rather than critiquing corporate coffee culture makes it hard to swallow. While most parodies have a negative connotation, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines “parody” as an “amusing or ridiculous imitation.” Still, it seems that Dumb Starbucks will have a hard time defending their choice of name in court.
On the positive side, the art (beverages) are currently free. This makes sense, if the establishment is a gallery, because the majority of art galleries are free. Yet, most galleries act as showrooms for art and operate with the hopes of making a sale. Conversely, most museums charge admission to view their art collections. Thus, it is also possible that Dumb Starbucks may start charging “admission” to consume their art.
The question of how to classify this coffee shop or art experiment does not seem to have instant answers. In fact, it is a matter that should be contemplated over a cup of coffee.