AKA Coffee’s new and improved packaging. Photo: AKA Coffee
AKA Coffee’s new and improved packaging. Photo: AKA Coffee

By Arielle Gordon-Rowe

The big corporation may have waged the war but, in this story, the local business is taking the high road and coming out on top. In light of a recent trademark opposition posed by the fast-food chain, Sonic, the East Bay roaster, Supersonic Coffee, has decided to rebrand as AKA Coffee.

Despite occupying entirely different realms of the food industry — Sonic as a fast-food chain worth over $4 billion and Supersonic as a small, artisan coffee operation — Sonic threatened to take legal action to defend its trademarks if Supersonic Coffee were to open a retail operation under that name.

Supersonic does, indeed, have upcoming plans to open a retail space and decided that it wasn’t worth the battle.

“When we received notice of Sonic’s intention to oppose our trademark application, we engaged one of the top IP firms in the country. After several months of legal communication it was clear that the fight against Sonic was going to be long and expensive,” said John Laird, the company’s managing director and co-founder, in a statement.

John Laird and Björg Brend Laird co-founded Supersonic in 2014. Over the past two years, the local coffee company has become an East Bay favorite, joining Highwire, Bicycle Coffee, Algorithm and Red Bay Roasters — just to name a few — among the ranks of popular third-wave roasters.

Instead of wallowing in a lost identity, the AKA team is approaching the rebranding as an opportunity to move forward with a fresh name and exciting new plans.

The new name AKA is a tongue-in-cheek nod to Supersonic’s rebranding journey. But it also serves to acknowledge the deeply personal nature of the coffee experience.

AKA made Pulley Collective its new West Oakland headquarters, but continues to roast signature blends on the Loring S35 Kestrel. Photo: AKA Coffee/Facebook
AKA roasting coffee at West Oakland’s Pulley Collective. Photo: AKA Coffee/Facebook
AKA roasting coffee at West Oakland’s Pulley Collective. Photo: AKA Coffee/Facebook

“One of the things we wanted to do was really respect our customers’ personal relationship with their coffee experience,” John Laird told Nosh. “Coffee has a different meaning for everybody.”

With the individuality of its consumers in mind, AKA intends to expand its coffee range to cater to coffee fanatics and casual drinkers alike. “This is part of our new concept with the new brand. More offerings,” said John Laird.

As of Oct. 24, AKA Coffee began shipping nationwide. Both wholesalers and Coffee aficionados can now order 12-ounce bags of AKA’s classic La Bella and Guatemalan varieties, in addition to several new blends including Kochere, Ethiopia, Familia Campo, Colombia and a new flagship blend.

According to John Laird, Supersonic’s wholesale accounts have been very supportive throughout the transition.

“This industry’s all about the relationships. We have strong relationships with our partners,” he said. “There was awesome support from everybody.”

In addition to adopting a new name, the company recently moved its roasting operation from Berkeley’s Bay Area CoRoasters to the Pulley Collective in West Oakland.

With shipping and the new roasting facility underway, the AKA team has set its sights on retail plans. They envision the space as a coffee bar in an outdoor setting in West Berkeley. “The project is in the works,” said John Laird. “The design is done and we are really excited about the potential to be open in early 2017.”

Connect with AKA Coffee on Facebook and Instagram.

Arielle Gordon-Rowe, a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, is a fall intern at Berkeleyside.

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