A fan emailed MomoMilk LLC last fall, excited because she had heard they were opening a store in her home town of Chicago. But she was soon disappointed when she realized it was not the nationally recognized bakery that was coming to Chicago, but another company altogether taking advantage of the Milk Bar trademark and brand recognition.
A few years ago, chef Christina Tosi started a restaurant and bakery called “Milk Bar” in New York City, which features shakes, milk cookies, cakes, pies, and a variety of cereal products. The bakery was an instant success and was soon opening other stores throughout the city, then in other cities across the country. It also works with third-party distributors and sells its delicious products through its website. Although it does not currently have a store in Chicago, Tosi has publicly spoken in interviews about the fact that she has been considering opening new stores in cities like Chicago and Miami where the brand has a strong fan base.
The famous bakery operates under the name MomoMilk LLC and it has owned the trademark to the stylized milk since 2014. Now another restaurant has recently opened in Chicago, also calling itself “Milk Bar” and using the trademarked style milk that MomoMilk has been using in all its branding materials for the past five years.
When MomoMilk received word that another company would be using its brand power to open a different restaurant in Chicago, it sent a cease and desist letter, but the other company never responded. In fact, it continued with its alleged trademark infringement by applying for a trademark for the name “JOJO’S MILK BAR”. Although the name might be different from MomoMilk, the trademark lawsuit alleges the logo is not. It points to marketing materials used by Jojo’s Milk Bar in which the “Jojo’s” part of the name is so small as to be illegible, while the stylized milkBar looks almost exactly like MomoMilk’s trademark.
MomoMilk is now suing Jojo’s Milk Bar for trademark infringement and unfair competition under Illinois law. The lawsuit was filed in Chicago earlier this year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Eastern Illinois. You can view the entire lawsuit here.
The complaint alleges that Jojo’s Milk Bar attempted to capitalize on MomoMilk’s brand from the very beginning by using marketing materials that advertised the opening of “Chicago’s first Milk Bar,” and that the advertisements repeatedly capitalized the first letters of “milk” and “bar” as though it were a proper noun or a brand name, despite the fact that the name is already a federally registered trademark owned by MomoMilk.
Jojo’s Milk Bar marketing materials also contained buzzwords that were allegedly designed to deliberately confuse consumers, including references to New York, flavored milk cookies (a MILK BAR specialty) and cereal. MomoMilk has had a line of cereal products from the beginning, but Jojo’s Milk Bar does not have a significant number of cereal-based products on its menu.
In an appearance on Fox32, Jojo’s Milk Bar’s chef, Christine McCabe, showed off the store’s baked goods. The anchor repeatedly referred to the store as “Milk Bar” and “Milk Bar in River North”, eliminating the “Jojo’s” part of the name, which went without correction from McCabe. The segment even included a shot of MomoMilk’s famous birthday cake as part of a lineup of products Jojo’s Milk Bar would allegedly be serving.
This was either intentional trademark infringement on the part of Jojo’s Milk Bar or the similarity between the two brands is so strong that a reporter preparing the segment did not realize the cake didn’t belong to the Milk Bar being discussed. Either way, it clearly displays the inherent confusion between the two brands.
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