Lipstick on a Pig
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Lipstick on a Pig

Photo by Val Dodge/Torontoist.

There’s trouble on a desolate stretch of the Danforth, and, like everything else that has ever gone wrong in the entire universe, it’s all Barack Obama’s fault.
When it launched early last month, the Obama Café, at 1226 Danforth Avenue, was the city’s first Obama-themed business. But it wouldn’t be alone for long: just a few doors down, at 1236 Danforth, an internet shop formerly known as the United Internet Café got a new red, white, and blue sign of its own, and a new name, just in time for the American president’s trip to Ottawa: Obama Cybernet Ltd. (or, if you go by their website, which advertises that “yes we can help!” with your computer needs, the Obama Cybernet Café).

20090317obama.jpg The Obama Café. Photo by Still the Oldie from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The Obama Café—the first one—is owned by Emmanuel Debass. Since it opened, the themed restaurant has been serving pastries, soups, snacks, and, Debass told Torontoist, “a lot of coffees from Kenya.” It’s garnered a whole lot of attention, and Debass isn’t even done setting up the store’s decor and menus yet: the grand opening will be on March 27, when he’ll unveil lots more decorations (to give the place an inauguration feel), as well as Obama combos—menu items based on the food Obama eats for his meals, which Debass composed from details gleaned from the White House.

The Obama Cybernet Café/Obama Cybernet Ltd. Photo by Still the Oldie from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The Obama Cybernet Café, a few dozen feet away, is run by Amveson Fitsumbrahn. Though it was created after Debass’s Obama Café, Fitsbumbrahn told Torontoist that he’s had the idea for nine months, and that on the Danforth his nickname is “Obama”; “no-one even knows my real name.” Though he couldn’t vote in the American election himself, according to Fitsumbrahn he helped coordinate some twelve hundred volunteers over the internet for the Obama campaign.
But that’s not really cutting it for Debass, who thinks that Fitsumbrahn’s trying to capitalize on his business’ fast-found popularity. “He’s bringing a lot of confusion with his name,” Debass says; when he saw Fitsumbrahn changing the sign right as his own café started swarming with media, “I said, ‘what’s going on with this guy?!'” It’s the proximity that irks Debass most: another Obama café “right beside me,” he says, “is unacceptable.” “He cannot do that….it doesn’t work like that in Canada.” Debass got his lawyer to write a letter to Fitsumbrahn, and now the whole thing is “under litigation.” Even though he wants Fitsumbrahn’s store name changed “by any means necessary,” Debass still prefers to think that it’s all a “misunderstanding”; both men reiterated to Torontoist that they’re from the same community, and neither seems too interested in a fight.
Debass is pretty sure, anyway, that Fitsumbrahn’s Obama sign is coming down today, a direct result of the threatened legal action. Fitsumbrahn, though, told Torontoist that he hasn’t decided whether to take it down or not yet. “I like the name,” Fitsumbrahn says. Debass, of course, scoffs at Fitsumbrahn’s defense. “He’s saying he likes Obama. Everybody likes Obama!”