Art Johnson still walks with a limp that he earned while playing football for the University of Colorado. He dresses in CU hats and shirts every day. Calling him a proud alum would be an understatement.
So when Johnson decided to open his own restaurant in Boulder, a fast-casual spot, it was no surprise that he came up with a name that's an homage to CU. But now that Ralphie's is open, he hopes his beloved university doesn't make him change the restaurant's name and logo.
Ralphie's sign features a large golden buffalo and the restaurant's name in gold and black lettering. On Friday, three days before Ralphie's opened, the Daily Camera reported that CU athletic director Mike Bohn and licensing director J.T. Galloway would be stopping by the restaurant to talk to Art and his wife, Lisa, about possible trademark violations. After all, the mascot of the CU Buffs is named Ralphie, and the team's logo a buffalo. But the fact that there could be a problem came as news to Art.
"I just served Mike Bohn barbecue at a golf tournament we catered three weeks ago and I told him the name was Ralphie's, and he thought that was great," he says.
When Johnson started his own real-estate business in 1991, he let his colors show by naming it Golden Buff Realty and using a golden buffalo as its logo -- and that business never ran afoul of CU lawyers. "I had an attorney check with the university to make sure it was okay, and they said, 'Sure, it's fine as long as you don't have a CU on the buffalo,'" remembers Johnson.
So Johnson, who will continue to run the realty company along with Ralphie's, was careful not to include "CU" on the restaurant sign. "I had a graphic artist draw this up for me, and he told me the rule of thumb is 25 to 30 percent is what you want to change, and as long as it's not trademarked and it doesn't have the 'CU' on it, we should be fine," he remembers. "I called him Friday after the Daily Camera came in here and said, 'Are you sure about that?'"
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Until they gets the word from CU, the Johnsons are getting on with business at Ralphie's, where they're serving up fairly standard breakfast fare along with barbecue and sandwiches ranging from cheeseburgers to po' boys to Italian sausage. "We want to get people in and out of here fast," Johnson says. "A lot of people around here have fifteen-minute breaks, so we're hoping to get them in and out of here in ten minutes if they want to. Or they can come in and sit down for as long as they want to."
He hopes the trademark issue can be settled quickly, too. Lisa "sent an e-mail to Mike Bohn saying we're willing to cooperate," Johnson says. And just in case, he has a back-up name for the restaurant:
"Artie's," he offers. "How about that?"