There has been a lot of buzz in the media, especially on social media, about a store called “Dumb” Starbucks, which appeared in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. This new coffee shop is not at all affiliated with the actual corporation Starbucks, and a spokesperson for the company indicated they had no idea who was behind the creation of the “Dumb” Starbucks store. The store aesthetically looks exactly like any other Starbucks chain, with one difference: it is all “dumb”. Drink offerings include “dumb” vanilla blonde roasts and “dumb” ventis. The store even offers CD’s like “Dumb” Norah Jones Duets next to their fake register. On the first open day the store had a huge draw, with lines around the block.
As if the idea wasn’t interesting enough to draw in customers, the fact that the drinks were free also influenced the size of the crowd. Even more attention was drawn to the pop up store when Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight on The Office, and Dan Harmon, creator of Community, posted to their social media sites about the pop up coffee shop. To add to the mystery of the endeavor, the creator of the coffee shop remained anonymous until recently, when we found out that Nathan Fielder, Comedy Central comedian, was behind it.
A video released by Nathan Fielder on the Dumb Starbucks twitter account explains that the company is legal because it is considered “parody art”, which is how they can legally use the Starbucks logos and business plan. However, whether this will hold up legally is another matter. It is without a doubt that Starbucks will pursue legal action, as the overly litigious company recently sued a small brewery for selling a drink called a Frappuccino (which coincidentally in no way was similar to the Starbucks Frappuccino).
One question that is at the heart of this is why? Fielder claims he is trying to run a legitimate business where he can “get rich”. He has claimed he plans to open a new location in New York as well, and expand the business. However, considering his background and past pranking experiences, we can assume this stunt is in some way tied to a comedic bit for Fielder. When asked about the type of coffee being purchased, he claimed it was, “Whatever was cheapest at Ralph’s.” And yet, with this coffee that has no claim to excellence, people were still (after the first day) being charged regular Starbuck’s prices for their drinks. Perhaps the idea behind the store is to point out the outrageous prices people are willing to pay for mediocre coffee. Regardless, this definitely raises a number of questions about business, trademark legality, and our motivations to pay exorbitant prices for Starbucks.
**Update: The Health Department has shut the Los Feliz “Dumb” Starbucks down for not acquiring a health permit to sell coffee.