Erin Wade and Allison Arevalo, friends and small business owners in Oakland, CA, recently discovered it's unwise to tread on anything the burger giant considers a trademark. The duo planned to name their restaurant -- a neighborhood joint featuring macaroni and cheese made from artisanal cheeses and local ingredients -- Little Mac. But last week, corporate counsel for the Golden Arches nixed the name, claiming that the word "mac" is the intellectual property of McDonalds.
Wade says they were stunned: "We were like, wait a minute, we're a mac and cheese shop and we can't use the word 'mac' at all?"
When the pair chose the name six months ago, they knew enough about the law to consult with a small business lawyer (Wade was an attorney before she decided to launch a restaurant). "We were worried about every use of 'mac'," she says. "We wanted to know if it would be an issue with Apple computer and M.A.C cosmetics too, not just McDonald's." The lawyer told them not to worry, since the term is such commonly used shorthand for macaroni and cheese.
Flash forward six months. As their opening approached, the duo couldn't shake the worry that McDonald's might perceive the name Little Mac as a riff on the Big Mac burger. To settle the issue once and for all, Wade called up McDonald's corporate counsel. "They told her that if we open a restaurant with 'mc' or 'mac' in the name, they will sue us," says Arevalo, "even if it clearly relates to mac and cheese."
And while they'd love to fight back, Arevalo and Wade say they can't afford to defend a suit from the corporate giant, even if they think it's without merit. "Defending it legally would put us under," says Wade. "A lot of people are telling us we should spell it in crazy way, but if we try it and they sue us anyway, we're still screwed."
So Little Mac is no more, but the pair are not deterred. They've launched a contest to come up with a new, mac-free name. They're offering a lifetime of mac and cheese to the winning entrant at Arevalo's blog, Local Lemons. They debuted their nameless mac and cheese a few days ago at an underground farmers' market in San Francisco, and opened the name up to the community. So far, the suggestions have included Macalicious, Corkscrew You, and Elbow Room.
The irony? "Something like 70 percent of the suggestions we get still include the word 'mac'," says Wade. Because whether McDonald's likes it or not, when you're talking about macaroni and cheese, it's a hard term to avoid.