UPDATED Is ‘Dumb Starbucks’ a Real Coffee Shop or Are We All Getting Punked?


If you were in the Los Feliz area in Los Angeles, CA this weekend, you may have scored some free java from a place that is either a new coffee shop, an art gallery or a big fat joke; it just depends on who you ask.

Dumb Starbucks, which opened up over the weekend is a shop that looks and functions just like coffee giant Starbucks except for the word “dumb” prefixed to everything from the store name, to the menu items, even cup sizes and music CDs.

Dumb Starbucks offered free coffee to patrons upon opening, generating lines with over an hour long wait, even if customers weren’t completely sure what was going on.

In an attempt to explain the use of the Starbucks logo for marketing purposes, Dumb Starbucks put out a legal FAQ which said this practice is legal under the parody or fair use law.

The letter explains “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’ […] a doctrine that permits use of a copyrighted material in a parodical work without permission from the rights holder”

It goes on to further explain, “Although we are a fully functioning coffee shop, for legal reasons Dumb Starbucks needs to be categorized as a work of parody art. So, in the eyes of the law, our ‘coffee shop’ is actually an art gallery and the ‘coffee’ you’re buying is considered the art.”

Sounds legitimate enough. But although it sounds like Dumb Starbucks has done its legal homework, the actual Starbucks seems none too happy with the move.

Jim Olson, a spokesman for the corporation told CNNMoney, “We appreciate the humor but they can’t use or name. It’s a protected trademark. It’s our trademark.”

Additionally Candice Choi of the AP was told by a Starbucks rep the legal team is working on identifying who the owner of Dumb Starbucks is so they can get to the bottom of things.

As this news continues to make a buzz around the web, some theories suggest Dumb Starbucks may just be a marketing gimmick for Comedy Central and the return of docu-reality comedy show, Nathan for You which has pulled other business-related stunts in the past — including helping an independent gas station by bringing in customers who were offered a steep discount, but only for a rebate that had to be dropped off in person at a mountain, according to one Hacker News user. Additionally, Tim Heidecker, who is an executive producer of the show retweeted a picture posted by @DumbStarbucks, adding fuel to these claims.

So is Dumb Starbucks a legitimate business or are we all getting punked big time? We’ll only know for sure in time. In the meanwhile, watch the news clip on the story, including what customers thought of the whole ordeal, above.

STORY UPDATED Monday, February 10, 2014 5:00PM PST

Nathan Fielder, start of the above-mentioned show, Nathan for You announced at 4pm on Monday that he is in fact the brains behind the pop-up shop, according to several news outlets. He said he plans to keep the store open until Friday and hopes to open another location in Brooklyn. He is currently filming the second season of Nathan for You, set to premiere this summer.