Beginning in mid-April, you may have noticed Lettuce Eatery’s twelve Toronto locations sporting new signage that rebrands the chain as Freshii, a name that may have some people scratching their heads. “It might not be the greatest name in the world, and it doesn’t really mean anything,” Freshii’s young CEO, Matthew Corrin, says over the phone from Chicago. “It connotates freshness and fun. A name doesn’t really mean anything until you attach the brand to it.”
Torontoist contacted Corrin after receiving a tip from reader Laurence Lui that a filing of proposed objection to the name was made at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. We wanted to know if he was concerned that Freshii might be confused with another restaurant—one that has three Toronto locations (including one literally across the street from Freshii’s Richmond and Spadina location), one that is also in the business of serving fresh, healthy, veggie-friendly food, and one that also uses a green logo: Fresh.
When we mentioned this to Corrin, he wasn’t concerned, claiming he thought the name of his competition was Juice for Life (the name was changed to Fresh in 1999). “You can’t trademark the word ‘fresh.’ It’s not descriptive enough,” says Corrin, pointing out that there is also a cosmetics company called Fresh. “We didn’t create the name to intentionally confuse our customers, and we certainly don’t want to spend money on legal fees.”
Fresh founder Ruth Tal confirms that the proposed objection wasn’t filed by Fresh. Despite urging from her own upset staff and Fresh fans, whom she says include the head of MAC cosmetics, Tal has decided not to pursue legal action—at least not yet. “I’m not going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars going after them,” says Tal. “I’d rather invest that money into opening a new location or making sure we have good equipment. I’m not going to divert resources away from my business.” To build a strong legal case, Fresh would have to prove the violation in court and seek damages that are a result of a loss of business due to confusion in the marketplace, explains Fresh co-owner Barry Alper. “So far we have seen an increase in our business since Freshii opened its doors, so it seems pointless to pursue this matter in the courts.”
Corrin says he’s not worried, even with two locations in such close proximity, noting a number of distinctions between the two restaurants. “We’re takeout, while Fresh is full service. They’re vegetarian, but we serve lots of proteins [including meat].” But Tal notes some similarities that she claims “would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.” “They lifted an entire section of our menu verbatim,” says Tal. “They use identical ingredients and have similar menu item names.” She claims Freshii’s new line of rice bowls bears eerie similarities to the Fresh bowls Fresh has been serving for the last fifteen years. Freshii’s bowls are served over brown rice, just like the ones at Fresh, and have names that are identical (Warrior) or synonymous (TKO) to Fresh bowls (theirs is the Power House). “I’ve never had to copy anyone else. What they’re doing is tacky and in bad taste. It’s like they’re daring us to go after them.”
For now, says Tal, she plans to keep a close eye on Freshii and expose the situation to the media while focusing on developing her own business. If Freshii opens more locations near hers or continues to allegedly “plagiarize” her menus, then she might consider taking action. But she’s confident her customers will remain loyal to the business she’s taken eighteen years to build, simply because she says her food is better. “Their sauces are terrible. The salads are just a lot of lettuce with a handful of toppings. And besides, the name Freshii is stupid.”
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.