Dong Phuong Bakery is in a bitter legal tiff, and its distinctive logo is at the center of it | Economic news
Dong Phuong Bakery Inc., supplier of one of New Orleans’ most sought-after king cakes, is locked in a bitter legal dispute that has forced the East Village dough puncher to drop all footage of distinctive brand that customers have become familiar with in recent years.
Gone are the vivid pastel colors and New Orleans streetscapes that adorned its cake boxes and the sides of its delivery vans. Gone, too, was the popular website where a lively bicycle delivery boy, wearing a traditional Vietnamese “leaf hat,” followed as customers made their choices.
The Dong Phuong logo, in Vietnamese-style fluid calligraphy, has also been erased.
In their place, for now, generic packaging and lettering and a minimalist website with a menu, a command button, and not much else.
The changes stem from a common and often costly misunderstanding for small businesses: ownership of intellectual property when an outside company, such as a graphic designer, brand consultant, or web designer, creates logos and designs. ‘other key marketing materials.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana earlier this month, Linh Tran Garza, president of the bakery and daughter of its founders, alleged that The Gemini Society, the company at the Origin of his brand and marketing upgrade in 2017, had secretly filed in November for ownership of the DP Bakeshop brand that Dong Phuong has been using for over four years.
Garza said that when she turned down Gemini’s requests this year to increase the percentage of e-commerce and wholesaling she was paying for them, the Austin, Texas-based design company then asked her to. pay high license fees or stop using all logos and other trademark materials.
“The fees are so outrageous that we couldn’t afford it,” Garza said.
The argument has the added poignant character of pitting old friends against each other. Garza went with The Gemini Society because the husband and wife owners were longtime friends of her husband. This meant that much of the relationship was about a handshake without a formal contract.
“We have a lot of confidence that our friends will treat us fairly,” Garza said via email.
After difficulties related to the distribution of his kings cakes, including an allegation of “cake scalping” published on the Internet, Dong Phuong (1…
John Blevins, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said the case offered a warning to small businesses regarding their intellectual property, an area where many lack expertise.
“This is a clear example of what happens when you don’t clarify intellectual property up front,” Blevins said. “It’s a bit like a wedding: you don’t think about the marriage contract when things are going well, and it can all end up being very expensive.”
The lawsuit claims that Gemini does not have the right to claim the DP Bakeshop trademark because under intellectual property law only the company using it in commerce has the ownership right. It also seeks to prevent Gemini from attempting to exercise copyright on a “laundry list” of generic menu terms, such as “Bahn Mi Box Meal” and “Build Your Own Baked Goods Box”.
Nelly and Dezi Ramirez, owners of Gemini, claim they are the aggrieved parties.
“We have put all our heart and soul into it for over four years and we have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Dezi Ramirez. “It was always on the assumption that we were business partners and that we were doing it for the ‘friends and family’ rates.”
“We have always retained ownership of the license rights,” said Ramirez.
He said Gemini’s claim to the DP Bakeshop brand is based on their licensing agreement with Dong Phuong, similar to how Coca-Cola licenses its brand to bottling companies.
Both parties agree that Gemini has been paid around $ 300,000 for their work since 2017, but the Ramirez say this fell far short of their costs and did not reflect their role in building the brand.
According to Nelly Ramirez, “The Gemini Society brought Dong Phuong’s immigration story to the fore and helped link the bakery destination to eastern New Orleans.”
Dong Phuong was opened in 1982 as Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery by parents Linh Tran Garza, De and Huong Tran. They had immigrated to the country with their young family two years earlier, after spending a year in a Malaysian refugee camp following the Communist takeover in Vietnam.
The East New Orleans bakery that started with traditional Vietnamese pastries has grown to produce French bread, king cakes, and other products. Garza took over in 2004, after her father died, and she says she worked to continue growing the business.
Garza’s mother, Huong, is the master baker. She still oversees the baking, including the award-winning kings cakes which are continuously baked around the clock during the carnival season. This year they produced about 100,000 of them and they’ve been shipped across the country.
The bakery is experiencing similar demand in the fall for its moon cakes, which are traditional dishes during the lunar festival celebrated by Vietnamese and Asian communities.
The bakery’s French breads, called pistolettes, have become a favorite with the region’s bahn mi and po-boy sandwich makers.
Dong Phuong Bakery Wins America’s Classics Award from James Beard
Dong Phuong was named in 2018 as one of that year’s James Beard America’s Classics, which honors grocery stores that have demonstrated “timeless appeal and are appreciated for their quality food that reflects the character of their community “.
Garza’s attorney, Amanda Butler Schley, said Gemini’s claims of having created the brand are ludicrous. She argued that Dong Phuong’s bakery history and reputation is the foundation of the brand.
“I think you can ask any of the publications that rated Dong Phuong King’s Cake as the best in town year after year if it’s their new logo and website that got them. suddenly recognized the grandeur of the King of Dong Phuong’s cake, ”she said. mentionned.
“I would say it was Linh’s leadership and her mother’s talent that brought the company to where it is today, not its logo,” said Schley. “That’s the real mark here.”
Regardless of the outcome, all parties involved agree that the relationship breakdown was costly and caused heartbreak.
Kelly Blache, the bakery manager, nostalgically presented an array of colorful boxes that they will no longer use to wrap kings’ cakes.
She said she took a selfie in front of the stunning Gemini-designed mural that adorned the bakery street wall before it needed to be sandblasted.
Garza said the bakery is working with another marketing firm to develop an updated branding plan.
“Even though it was a difficult decision, since we have already invested a lot, we decided not to license the work and start all over with a new company,” Garza said. “It was a difficult and expensive lesson to learn, but this time we made sure to keep the property.”