For the owners of a “Friends”-inspired coffee shop in St. Cloud, it’s not their day, their week, their month or even their year.
After nearly five years in business, Central Perk owners Alan and Odessa Scherr said they’re selling their shop after they got a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Bros. demanding they change their name.
In a March letter, Warner Bros. said the owners had until July to change the name — and get rid of an orange couch featured on their website, suggesting it’s too similar to one where the main characters would gather in “Friends,” the hit sitcom that aired for 10 years until 2004.
“We were kind of surprised,” Alan Scherr said. “It’s just a couch in a coffee shop.”
When the Scherrs opened their cafe in downtown St. Cloud, he said they picked the name Central Perk because Odessa was a fan of the sitcom and because they are in central Minnesota. Scherr said a business partner’s lawyer looked into the use of the name and found no issue.
But trademarks on the name and logo were filed by Time Warner Entertainment Company, which owns Warner Bros., as far back as the mid-1990s, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“It’s Warner Bros., so they don’t mess around,” said Ken Port, a professor who teaches about intellectual property law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “Warner Bros., has prior rights in Central Perk. You’ve got to do your due diligence.”
Port said that despite the perception of big corporations bullying small businesses, only 5.5 percent of cases are unjustifiable. Although, a fight over an orange couch is “a little bit more dubious of a claim,” he said.
Warner Bros. declined to comment. But last fall the company filed new trademarks of the Central Perk logo to use on computer software, video games, toys and other goods, and coffee shop and cafe services — prompting rumors the company may be planning to open a real-life version of the TV coffee shop.
Several other Central Perk coffee shops are listed online, including ones in Louisiana, Arkansas, even Singapore, where drinks are named after the TV show’s main characters — such as the “Ross Geller.” Scherr said he often answers calls from people mistaking his cafe for a Central Perk in New Jersey.
Scherr, who worked his way up from a grocery bagger to manager for a couple decades, opened the coffee shop in 2013 and it’s grown each year, he said.
But even without fighting Warner Bros., Scherr said they can’t afford to advertise a new name, and their coffee roaster coincidentally shut down last month. The couple took it as a sign to pivot, putting the shop up for sale last week, as the St. Cloud Times reported.
Scherr said the couple will still be there for the St. Cloud community until the business sells. Then, he said he hopes it will stay a coffee shop — just under a new name.
Warner Bros. didn’t make many friends among his customers, Scherr said.
“A lot of them are bummed,” he said.