The owners of Big Ten Burrito have a problem. Because of a trademark lawsuit, they have to rename their company, but their ideas just don’t cut it.
Last June, owners Justin Herrick and Adam Lowenstein tried to trademark the name of the local burrito joint, but the move generated legal resistance and claims of trademark infringement from the Big Ten Athletic Conference. Rather than battle the multimillion-dollar corporation in court, the owners agreed to change their name by September. The conference is responsible for the cost of new logos and signs.
Herrick and Lowenstein kicked off the BTB Name Game Challenge on Monday, inviting people to submit suggestions at the Ann Arbor or East Lansing locations or online.
BTB fans have submitted more than 200 options, ranging from just using the acronym “BTB” to alliterations such as “Burrito Bungalow.”
One avid fan even proposed the owners rename the restaurant “Fuck You Big Ten Conference Burrito.”
“We probably won’t go with that one,” Lowenstein said, though he conceded it’s his personal favorite.
Lowenstein said that when the dispute with the conference began, he didn’t think they could actually make the restaurant change its name.
But after a few weeks, Lowenstein said he realized his two-year-old business would not be financially capable of representing itself should the conference make good on its threat to take the burrito shop to court. Despite feeling frustrated and angry, the owners decided to make the best of the situation by transforming the forced name change into an interactive marketing strategy.
When the contest ends April 10, Lowenstein and Herrick will compile their favorites and determine the winner through a final round of in-store and online voting.
“The whole reason behind this promotion is to get other people’s opinions,” Lowenstein said. “But we also get to educate customers so they don’t think we were bought out or that the food is different.”
The restaurant has a strong local fan base. Students said they would continue to buy their burritos at BTB regardless of its name.
University media relations intern Ryan Sosin, who eats at BTB several times a week, said the restaurant will not lose customers as a result of the name change. He submitted his own idea for a name: “SCC Burrito.”
“People will still call it Big Ten, it just won’t be (written) on anything,” Sosin added.
Sosin questioned why a corporation as large as the Big Ten Conference would target a business that sells $4 burritos.
“They have millions of dollars, but they wanna mess with a little burrito joint?” Sosin said. “They’re worrying about the trademarking of a place where you can fit about eight people. The Big Ten Conference has bigger fish to fry, like getting a basketball team in the Final Four.”
Sosin is not alone.
Lowenstein said many people have expressed outrage, indifference and disbelief at the Big Ten Conference’s actions.
In addition to providing advice on trademark law, several law students – including third-year law student Michael Murphy – have offered to work on the BTB case pro bono.
“To take what you learn in class and apply it to the legal troubles of Big Ten Burrito is pretty fun,” Murphy said.
Murphy said although there seems to be a consensus that BTB has a valid defense, debate has arisen over whether it is in BTB’s best interest to pursue a case against the Big Ten Conference.
“Big Ten Burrito definitely has a case, but it’s one of those things where they probably can’t afford to make it in legal fees,” Murphy said.
Lowenstein said even if BTB had gone to trial and won, there would be no way to recoup the $100,000 to $200,000 in legal costs.
“At this point, we thought, we can change the name now and make sure it’s legal,” Lowenstein said, “and never have to deal with this again.”