Berkeley blogger and soon-to-be restaurateur Allison Arevalo found herself in a David and Goliath situation last week when fast-food behemoth McDonald’s let her know it would sue if she went ahead with the chosen name for her new Oakland restaurant: Little Mac.
Arevalo and Erin Wade, co-owner of the new restaurant which will specialize in macaroni and cheese, rapidly determined they could not afford either the time nor the money to fight a lawsuit, and have abandoned the name they have been using for the new restaurant for the past six months.
The pair had already invested in the name and were associated with it. “We had developed a logo and a website with that name and all the press coverage we have had in the run-up to the opening has used the name,” said Wade.
Arevalo said they consulted a lawyer before choosing the name who told them to go ahead and use it because there would be no brand confusion with McDonald’s. “We are not trying to profit from a McDonald’s association,” said Arevalo. “We couldn’t be further from McDonald’s in that we use artisanal cheeses and local ingredients and our focus is totally local.”
The news that McDonald’s would take action came in a phone call Wade made to the company’s corporate council after friends expressed their concern over a potential conflict. Wade, a former attorney, who attended UC Berkeley’s law school, decided to double-check with McDonald’s to see if there could be any complications.
Wade was told that McDonald’s takes issue with any name with the word “Mac” or “Mc” in it. When she mentioned other restaurants whose names contained those words, she was told that if a restaurant came under McDonald’s radar the company would take action. (
McDonald’s had not responded to a call from Berkeleyside at the time this story went live.)
The news came 48 hours before the pair was about to debut their mac and cheese dishes for a crowd of thousands at the SF Underground Farmers’ Market, hosted by Forage SF.
With a suddenly nameless venture, Arevalo and Wade hit on the idea of a “Name Our Restaurant” contest. They enlisted friends to hand out flyers explaining their situation, and asked people to submit ideas. The winner of the contest will receive a lifetime of free mac and cheese.
So far, they have had a great response with many suggested names — including Macalicious, Back to the Mac, Elbow Room and Nice & Cheesy.
The problem, said Arevalo, is that 70% of the suggestions have the word “Mac” in them. “It just shows how hard it is to find a name for a mac and cheese place without the word Mac,” she said.
Update 8.34am: In a statement received by McDonald’s at 8.30am today, the company writes:
The facts of this situation are inaccurate. This restaurateur actually contacted McDonald’s legal department to discuss her trademark concerns with her potential restaurant name. We had a cordial conversation and suggested she seek independent advice. At no time was legal action threatened nor was any legal correspondence sent.