ALAMOSA — An Alamosa restaurant owner is concerned that a new Denver-based upscale grocery store has diluted her brand.
Small business entrepreneur Wendi Seger opened Locavores in Alamosa in 2016. The fast-casual restaurant filled a void in the community by offering fresh and fast food.
Then in November, a new grocery store called Leevers Locavore opened up in Denver where a discount Save-a-Lot store had closed in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood.
That new grocery store is owned by Leevers Supermarkets, Inc., a corporation that operates more than 20 grocery stores under multiple brand names across
Seger first learned about Leevers Locavore from acquaintances in Denver familiar with her restaurant and curious about her involvement with the grocery store.
They sent her information on the grocery’s grand opening and photos of its exterior signage.
“This was news to me – and honestly,” Seger said. “I was shocked.
The Leevers Locavore logo is strikingly similar to my restaurant’s primary mark.”
Seger is concerned about confusion among her customers.
Locavores is an established destination in the Valley that attracts locals and tourists alike.
Many online reviews for the Locavores restaurant are from front range customers thrilled to have found a quick bite that is healthy and locally owned. The restaurant’s website, EatLocavores.com, receives more than 40% of its visits from users in Denver.
Seger has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Leevers Supermarkets contending common law trademark protection because she used the mark first. Her primary mark was first used in commerce in 2016, a full three years before Leevers Locavore opened for business.
According to public documents, the grocer was awarded a federal trademark in February of this year for “Leevers Locavore” under international class 43 (restaurant and services). Initially Seger pursued a federal trademark for her business name but was denied because it was deemed generally descriptive. Her business is, however, on file with the Colorado Secretary of State and appeared on the first page of Google results when “locavore” was searched today. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “parties are not required to register their marks to obtain protectable rights. You can establish ‘common law’ rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without registration.”
Erin Keck of the Alamosa County Chamber of Commerce expressed support for Seger’s pursuit of a remedy.
“Businesses with similar branding can cause harmful confusion for customers. Owners work hard to develop an authentic brand that speaks to their identity and mission, which is what Locavores has done in Alamosa. Copyright laws exist to prevent this confusion and protect business owners, and that should be true whether your town has 10,000 residents or 500,000.”
Many of our members count on front range customers in their business models,” Keck said. “Think about it. If a company in Denver has the same name as an Alamosa business in the same industry, and a front range customer has a bad experience at the Denver-based store, it would unfairly impact our local merchant.”
In addition to the similar brand marks, there are interior design elements of the Locavores restaurant that also appear in the Leevers Locavore grocery store. One of the most prominent design features of the restaurant is a mural depicting the location of suppliers on a southwest Colorado map. (The map is also visible at eatlocavores.com/partnerships.) Leevers Locavore also adorned one of its interior walls with a regional map and messaging about eating local.
To Seger, it is above all a matter of principle. The idea for opening Locavores grew out of the potato farm she and her husband run. Seger noted the irony that agricultural communities and the families that farm often have fewer fresh, healthy prepared food options compared to residents in urban areas. In addition to building a restaurant, Seger built a brand inspired by her farming community with a mission of making their lives better, healthier. The success of Locavores in Alamosa proves that her brand has value.