Megastar pastry chef Christina Tosi and her team at Milk Bar have filed a complaint alleging that a Chicago dessert bar and restaurant has infringed their name and logo. The federal complaint claimed the owners of JoJo’s Milk Bar, which opened in February in River North, “deliberately” and “willfully” confused customers and the media into thinking the Chicago bar was associated with Tosi’s. The complaint alleges that JoJo’s logos look similar and that the Chicago ownership purposely deemphasized “JoJo’s” in its name to further cause confusion into thinking the two Milk Bar brands were related.
According to the complaint:
“Jojo’s employs many triggers designed to cause consumer confusion with MomoMilk and its creative voice, Ms. Tosi, such as Jojo’s reduction of its mark to just the words “milkBAR” (identical not only to MomoMilk’s registered MILK BAR mark but also to its registered milk marks) undistinguished by the often-imperceptible presentation of the word ‘Jojo’s.’”
Tosi founded Milk Bar in 2008 in Manhattan. She’s a two-time James Beard Award winner and has built an empire with 16 locations while separating her brand from David Chang’s Momofuku. She does not have a Chicago location, though she told Eater Chicago in February one could possibly open in a “year or two.” The use of the mark and name creates “unfair competition,” the complaint alleged.
The complaint also claims Tosi’s team attempted to quietly resolve their grievances before JoJo’s opened in November when they sent a letter to Robert Schloss of Castle Hospitality, the owners of JoJo’s Milk Bar. The letter asked Schloss to “immediately discontinue” use of the “Milk Bar” name and mark. Tosi’s team alleges Schloss ignored that request.
Tosi’s attorney filed the complaint on Monday night in Chicago. The document contained plenty of photos of Tosi’s famous desserts, trying to demonstrate the iconic nature of her food. It also mentioned social media posts by people confused that Tosi had opened a Chicago business. One Instagram poster asked JoJo’s Milk Bar if they had the dessert formerly known as Crack Pie, a reference to one of Tosi’s more popular desserts. There’s also reference to Yelp, home of a few confused people.
There’s also mention of a Fox Chicago news segment from February 28 that featured JoJo’s Milk Bar executive chef Christine McCabe. The complaint takes issue with McCabe not correcting Fox when segment host Brittney Payton dropped the “JoJo’s” part of the name and simply referred to the spot as “Milk Bar.” Fox was also confused as it mistakenly ran a screenshot of Tosi’s Birthday Cake, another popular item. In McCabe’s interview, when asked about how her team came up with JoJo’s Milk Bar she answered: “Milk bars have been around for a long time but we’re bringing them to modern-day times.”
Tosi and Milk Bar are seeking an injunction barring Jojo’s team from using the “Milk Bar” name and marks. They’re also seeking to impound and destroy any materials (glasses, dishes, bags, etc.) with the name.
Spokespersons for JoJo’s Milk Bar did not return requests for comment. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Milk Bar sent in this statement:
“Our goal is to eliminate any confusion for customers. As a brand with small business roots we support all who are taking risks and creating new concepts. However, it is important that we protect the integrity of the Milk Bar brand and product from outside parties who are allowing and/or promoting an association with us, whether intentional or not.”
Though this is the first time a complaint has been lodged, this isn’t the first time Tosi has claimed someone as a copycat. For example, Burger King came up with a shake that looked similar to Milk Bar’s Cereal Milk Shake, something that’s trademarked.
Law360 first reported the news.