Attorneys for JoJo’s Milk Bar — the Chicago restaurant accused of cashing in on Milk Bar and celebrity chef Christina Tosi’s star by opening a similarly named business with a similar looking logo — fired back last week in court. Specifically, they denied infringing on the New York-based bakery chain’s trademarks.
JoJo’s lawyers, responding for the first time in public or in court, described evidence submitted by Tosi’s attorneys as “weak and unpersuasive.” JoJo’s attorneys hope to block the New York-based bakery chain’s injunction, which demanded the Chicago restaurant change its name and destroy all items bearing its logo.
Milk Bar is the brainchild of Tosi, a restaurateur who’s written books and regularly appears on TV. JoJo’s Milk Bar, a restaurant and bar with boozy milkshakes, diner-style food and sweets, opened in February in River North. Tosi opened her first Milk Bar in 2008 in New York and her baked goods have received national acclaim with two James Beard awards. Tosi’s Milk Bar has locations in cities like Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and Toronto. Chicago and Austin locations may be on the way.
JoJo’s attorneys argued “milk bar” is a generic term and that “generic terms are not protectable or enforceable.” In court filings dated May 23, Jojo’s attorneys argued there are “numerous businesses across the country” that use “milk bar” in their names. Court filings mentioned Bumsan Organic Milk Bar in Los Angeles and West Hollywood; Meg’s Aussie Milk Bar in Newport, Rhode Island; and Sidekick Café & Milk Bar in San Francisco. Lawyers also noted milk bar appearances in pop-culture, citing the film A Clockwork Orange and the video game Legend of Zelda.
“Preventing a competitor from conveying important information to consumers through the monopolization of a generic or merely descriptive trademark is anticompetitive and may violate antitrust law,” the filings by JoJo’s Milk Bar’s attorneys read.
On the flip side, Milk Bar also argued that JoJo’s logo is too close to its own. JoJo’s attorneys countered that their client’s logo, with a milk bottle, looks different. They added that “JoJo’s” is their brand of milk bar, just like “Momokfuku” was part of Milk Bar’s brand before Tosi’s business split from her friend and fellow celebrity chef David Chang’s company in 2012.
JoJo’s attorneys also defended their client’s idea for the business, writing that owner Robbie Schloss’s grandmother inspired him. She was a native from Poland who regularly visited milk bars in her homeland. Schloss (Shore Club) was also inspired by childhood trips to milk bars and diners, according to attorneys.
Milk Bar’s attorneys sent a cease-and-desist letter in November to Schloss. However, JoJo’s attorneys claimed it “got lost in the flood of letters” from law firms wanting to help Schloss with opening JoJo’s. Some letters were, coincidentally enough, from trademark attorneys. JoJo’s attorneys questioned why nobody from Tosi’s camp sent a follow up email.
JoJo’s Milk Bar attorney, Daliah Saper, didn’t provide additional comment. The next court date is June 6.