‘Dumb Starbucks’ serves up parody, coffee and baked goods

A few days ago in Los Angeles, a “Dumb Starbucks” opened in a strip mall.

A Dumb Starbucks, apparently, is a kind of practical joke, which also serves espresso drinks and pastries.

According to news reports, the new coffee shop looks nearly identical to a real Starbucks store — except that its logo, and most of the items on the menu, have the word “dumb” added to their names. Dumb Caffe Latte. Dumb Green Tea. Dumb Iced Caramel Macchiato, etc. There are even “Dumb” copies of Starbucks’s usual offerings of forgettable-music CDs near the registers, according to news reports.

What there isn’t, so far, is an explanation.

Who would go to the trouble and expense to make such an elaborate one-note parody of Starbucks?

It could be a competitor. Although, why another coffee chain would use a stunt that draws so much attention to Starbucks? It could be Starbucks itself, making a reverse-psychology ploy to boost its name recognition. Although: Could Starbucks possibly need more name recognition?

The coffee shop itself does not have a Web site. A Twitter account, @dumbstarbucks, claimed to speak for the shop. But it didn’t say much, other than to post a picture of the menu — and to explain that official hats and T-shirts weren’t available for sale. “Yet,” the Twitter feed added.

At the shop, in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA, media reports said the only thing like an explanation was a posted FAQ sheet.

“We are simply using their name and logo for marketing purposes. 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,’” the sign said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We are aware of the store, it is not affiliated with Starbucks,” a spokesman for Starbucks wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humor, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark.”

For now, the joke store is attracting large crowds — in part, because it is giving coffee away for free.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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