Sarah Amorese fell in love with chocolate when she lived in Amsterdam. "My boss used to bring Belgian chocolates back to the office," she told us. "And my husband — boyfriend at the time — and I did a lot of business trips through Europe. We used to visit every pastry and chocolate shop we could find." Those are the shops she channeled when she opened her store, Piece, Love & Chocolate, at 805 Pearl Street in Boulder four years ago, where she now not only sells all kinds of chocolates — both those she creates and those she covets — but also runs a small cafe and offers classes. (Next up: Chocolate Souffle and Flourless Chocolate Cake on February 28.)
"We've had this idea for a long time," Amorese said. "You see chocolate-centric stores all over Europe, but there's really no one doing it around here."
Maybe because when someone tries, they wind up getting bullied out of it. Last week, Amorese heard from lawyers representing Vosges Haut-Chocolat, who claimed that the Piece, Love & Chocolate name violates the "peace, love, and chocolate" trademark of the $55 million-a-year company. Trademark fights have become common with craft-beer outfits — but a sweet spot? As Amorese points out, Vosges does not even use the phrase in its name or advertising.
And so on Saturday, she posted this response on her website:
We recently received a cease and desist letter from the Chicago attorneys for Vosges Haut-Chocolat, claiming Piece, Love & Chocolate’s name is a trademark violation against Vosges Haut-Chocolat and in violation of the Lanham Act. Vosges’ attorneys have demanded that within one week, PL&C stop using our company’s name on any “…web usage, promotional materials, and in general, in any regard with respect to (y)our company’s activities.” We are shocked, withered and saddened by Vosges’ abrupt and heavy handed act. We have considered Vosges a fellow chocolatier whose products we support and carry in the shop. To rally the support of our customers, fans and chocoholics around the globe, we have prepared this open letter to Vosges Chocolat and its founder, Katrina Markoff.
Dear Ms. Markoff,
We’ve received your cease and desist letter from your lawyer, Mr. Jayaram, in which he demands we abandon the use of our brand’s name, identity, product labeling, URLs, social media handles and the small town reputation we’ve worked so very hard to grow over the past five years. These overburdensome demands stem from Vosges Haut Chocolat’s alleged trademark on the phrase, “Peace, Love, and Chocolate.” Mr. Jayaram also demanded that these actions be reconciled within one week.
The demands become even more witheringly mind-boggling when we discover that Vosges Haut Chocolat doesn’t use the phrase, “Peace, Love, and Chocolate” in its name, logo or even advertising. It’s simply a phrase your legal team has trademarked as your “mission” and happens to be the URL of your blog, PeaceLoveAndChocolate.com, which has been updated only five times within the past two years, the last update being in September 2014.
Mr. Jayaram claims that our use of “Piece, Love & Chocolate” is “confusingly similar” and that this “creates a misleading impression among (your) customers that (our) services and/or products are somehow connected to or authorized by Vosges.” I find it hard to believe that your customers are confused by my tiny shop in Boulder, Colorado, and that my company’s name dilutes your brand in any way.
Mr. Jayaram goes on to say that our company’s name is “unfairly competitive” and “unfortunately against the law.” Let me assure you, I have neither the capital nor the intentions of growing a chocolate empire such as yours. I am a hard-working entrepreneur who is dedicated to her passion and her craft, much like yourself. I want to instill in my children the notion that you can turn your dreams into a reality, much like my father instilled in me, and I can imagine much like how you’re teaching your own children.
When I registered my LLC with the State of Colorado in 2009, I did my research; there was no other company with the name, “Piece, Love & Chocolate.” It’s simply a phrase. If we want to get down to semantics, it’s “Peace” versus “Piece,” an Oxford comma after “Love,” and “and” instead of an ampersand. Verbally, they sound the same. Written, they’re quite different in appearance and meaning.
If you’d ever stepped into my single 1,200 square-foot shop at the very end of downtown Boulder, you’d see that I sell your products, along with other dedicated, hard-working chocolatiers. You might hear me tell your amazing story to my customers and hear me encourage them to visit your shops in Las Vegas and Chicago. If my customers are looking for a specific Vosges bar that I don’t have, I give them your website and encourage them to buy directly from you. This is how I intend to spread “peace and love.” Tell me, Katrina, is a cease and desist letter how you intend to spread the same?
I believe strongly in supporting other female entrepreneurs, and in supporting my local economy. When possible, I donate to our local women’s and children’s shelter. I donate my time to coach Boulder High’s ACF and ProStart culinary team, a program designed to provide scholarships to young adults who want a career in the culinary arts but can’t afford college tuition.
I am a small town business owner trying to make ends meet. As you can see from the financials we sent to Mr. Jayaram, we haven’t made those ends meet yet. Your request for us to change everything that solidifies our company’s identity will be a financial burden so weighty, it will put me out of business. Where is the “peace and love” in an action so petty and bullying?
Mr. Jayaram ends his letter with an assurance that he and his team want to “bring these issues to an amicable resolution.” I can assure you that I, too, want the same. Hopefully your version of an amicable resolution doesn’t include shutting down a small-time chocolate shop with 14 employees and a shaky P&L.
My employees and I are hoping that the legal team for your $55-million-a-year company are simply bored and looking to spend some of their hefty retainer fee. We want to believe that you know nothing about this move to annihilate small-time chocolatiers. We want to believe that you truly hold peace and love in your heart.
Katrina, please. You cannot do this.
With Peace and Love,
Founder and Owner, Piece, Love & Chocolate Company
Read responses from customers on the Piece, Love & Chocolate website. As for a response from the lawyers, Amorese is still waiting.