Under the guise of building a stronger national economy, American corporations have been unnaturally buoyed and aided over the last half century. Beyond the highly debated tax breaks afforded giant conglomerates, there has been a steady trend to regulate private industry less.
The effects have been ruinous for the American middle class and small business owners. The unfair financial advantage that big box retailers have over the mom and pops has obliterated small businesses and homogenized our commercial landscape, stripping our cities of their identity. In addition, the behemoth’s confrontational “Sue me, I have lawyers on retainer” attitude is just one more ill.
Recently, one such embarrassing corporate bullying episode happened locally. A large company is trampling on the rights of a small businesswoman in a dispute, sadly, over one of the most unique of Miami customs, the Cuban cafecito break.
In 2012, Jenny Lee Molina, founder of JLPR firm, created 3:05 Cafecito celebrating Miami’s café break ritual. “I grew up making my father Cuban coffee. I remember always sneaking in a spoonful of cafecito-kissed sugar when I’d make the espumita (froth on top of coffee). My love affair with cafecito defines me to the core,” explained Molina, a proud Miami homegirl who most of us know as an all-around buena gente, an good and honest person. “Miami is fueled by cafecito,” she said. “Sharing a colada is the quintessential Miami salute.”
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This fall Molina found out about a campaign by Café Bustelo, owned by food giant, J.M. Smucker Co., where it promoted and offered Cuban-style café at pop-up coffee shops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — at precisely 3:05 in the afternoon. They called it “Cafecito Time.”
Concerned about her trademark, Molina contacted Café Bustelo in October. She told me that her that she “just wanted to get credit for the concept. It wasn’t about money.”
“As a professional in the marketing and communications industry, I always intended for 3:05 Cafecito to be a marketing vehicle in partnership with other brands — it is a fun campaign that resonates,” she said.
“We have held events throughout Miami promoting our brand since 2012, selling our shirts and tacitas and growing our audience in order to benefit our influencer marketing campaigns,” she said. “This began as a passion project, but it is my business, which is why I need to protect my trademark and my intellectual property.”
The response from the coffee conglomerate, which — to make matters worse — is based in Miami, was disappointing. “We do not believe that anyone has exclusive rights in celebrating a coffee moment at 3:05 p.m. To claim otherwise seems contrary to the idea of sharing pride in the afternoon cafecito ritual as a way to honor the Latin culture in Miami,” responded Courtni Moorman, senior corporate counsel at Smucker.
My jive meter tells me this arrogant corporate response is meant to boldly challenge Molina and her small operation. While the specificity of the law will have to be interpreted in court, this case is an example of corporate bullying and poor business ethics.
Meanwhile, Molina has called for a boycott of the Bustelo brand.
This afternoon, I will have my traditional cafecito at 3:05 and it will certainly not be Bustelo café.