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Coffee Wars: Portland Cafe Prompts Wicker Park's Red E Coffee Name Change

By Alisa Hauser | July 12, 2013 10:02am
 Red E Coffee Shop opens Thursday at 1562 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park.
Red E Coffee Shop Opens Thursday
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WICKER PARK — The owners of a new Wicker Park coffee shop have changed their shop's name less than two weeks after opening after the owner of two Oregon coffee shops objected to similarities to his name and logo.

Keith Miller, owner of Red E Cafe which operates two cafes in Portland — the first of which opened in 2009 — got wind of Wicker Park's Red E Coffee after he received an email from a customer asking if they'd opened a shop in Chicago.

"They showed me a picture, it all looks and feels how we look and brand ourselves here in Portland," Miller said.

In addition to similar names, Portland's Red E Cafe uses a lowercase red "e," as its logo, which is similar to the lower case red "e" hanging in the front of the Wicker Park shop at 1562 N. Milwaukee Avenue just south of the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues.

Coffee industry blog sprudge.com elaborated on the java drama in an in-depth post featuring images from both shops and concluding they are "observationally not dissimilar" brand identities.

Earlier this week, the Chicago shop issued a formal press release saying it has changed its name to Ready Coffee, but there was no mention of the store's rebranding.

Co-owners Adam Banks and John Grbac had "no comment" on the name change.

But Petra Quiceno of the coffee shop's public relations firm issued a statement saying the cafe bought the "redecoffee.com" domain name from godaddy.com for $8 on Nov. 16, and assumed that no one had an interest in the name since the domain was available.

"We have been incorporated under the Red E Brand in New York and Illinois. Once the Redecoffee.com website launched and we celebrated our opening, we received notice from Red E Café that they felt the name and E symbols were too similar," the statement said.

She went on to say the Chicago shop "decided to honor the requests of Red E Café to change the name and reduce our use of the letter E."

"We wish the café in Portland well," the statement concluded.

Miller said his attorney reached out to the Chicago coffee shop to request a name change, but added that "changing a name is a partial solution."

"Can you open up a Starbucks and just add an extra "r" and still use a mermaid?" Miller said.

Miller said "the coffee industry is pretty small, people know of each other," so he "doesn't know how they arrived at the name" or did not notice his cafe's Facebook account, which has used the Red E name for more than four years.

"It would be really hard to set up a new account and not see us....  mostly I want to eliminate any confusion in marketing space but by no means am I badmouthing them.

"I know how stressful it is to open a new business and how much risk is involved and the emotionally roller coaster it can put you on. I would like to see them succeed and be original," Miller said.

Meanwhile, for Ready Coffee to succeed in Chicago, it faces plenty of local competition, and it plans to differentiate itself by offering a "buck cup" of $1 java.

"The last frontier in the coffee world has to be price; cups of coffee are now normally higher than a gallon of gas," Banks said in a press release.

Joining Ready's entry into Wicker Park is a crop of three new coffee and doughnut shops coming to the 1500 block of North Damen Avenue, about a biscotti's throw from Ready's doorstep. 

The new shops will compete with mainstays such as Starbucks (1588 N. Milwaukee Ave.), Caribou Coffee (1611 N. Damen Ave), a newly-remodeled Buzz Killer Espresso (1644 N. Damen Ave.), The Wormhole (1462 N. Milwaukee Ave.), and Filter Cafe (1373 N. Milwaukee Ave.).