SOMERVILLE, NJ — Local entrepreneur and business owner Steven Chiocchi, who opened “Cheech’s Own” coffee house on the corner of Main Street and Division Street earlier this year, is being sued by comedian Richard “Cheech” Marin, who claims the popular coffee shop and its product line are cashing in on his name and celebrity.
The suit was filed in the Central District of California on Wednesday seeking an injunction against the owner and company, Cheech’s Own LLC. Marin’s company, Koo Koo Banana, is also a plaintiff to the lawsuit. Koo Koo Banana is seeking to trademark “Cheech” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, according to the suit.
The complaint asserts that Cheech’s Own had filed a trademark application for "Cheech's Own" but was turned down earlier this year because of potential confusion or association with Marin.
The letter rejecting Chiocchi’s application reads:
“Since celebrities are commonly associated with food product lines and Cheech Marin already endorses a beverage, the public would reasonably assume a connection between him and food products, such as coffee, coffee-based beverages, and coffee beans. Consumers would reasonably believe Cheech Marin is connected to Cheech’s Own.”
Marin’s lawsuit asks seeks “unspecified monetary damages and all gains, profits, benefits and advantages” derived from the use of his name.
Chiocchi said he and his attorney had been going “back and forth” with Marin’s attorney in California for several months, and was surprised that the suit was filed.
He issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
“Cheech’s Own developed its brand and reputation based on the childhood nickname of the founder, Steven Chiocchi, without any desire or intention of evoking Mr. Marin or his acting career.
“We deny all of the allegations in the complaint and will take the steps necessary to protect our own unique brand and reputation in the coffee industry.
“I created my coffee brand based on my own personal nickname. I have used the Cheech’s Own brand for years without incident. I have never associated myself or my business with Mr. Marin, nor have any desire to.
“We are a local, home-grown coffee company and it is offensive that Mr. Marin and his management company are trying to shut down our beloved business that has no impact on his business endeavors.
“We will take appropriate measures to defend our brand and reputation.”
The complaint filed by Marin’s attorney states:
“Over the course of fifty years, Richard “Cheech” Marin has enjoyed renown as one of the world’s most famous comedians. Both his name and likeness are instantly recognizable in media and popular culture. Originally known as half of the nationally and internationally famous comic duo, “Cheech & Chong,” both with Tommy Chong and individually, performing as “Cheech,” Plaintiff has continuously been in the public eye since at least 1971.”
The suit continues, “He is known as a writer, voice-over artist and aficionado of fine arts (with a focus on Chicano Art), certain beverages, and, of course, cannabis and THC products (often associated with his early “stoner” comedy)."
The complaint continues, “Defendants market their products via various social media platforms, including at their website, “cheechsown.com.” Defendants’ social media sites include a proprietary “cheechsown” Instagram page and Defendants use variants of Plaintiff Cheech’s name in hashtags that include #cheechsown (which includes images of Cheech & Chong); #cheechyoself; #cheechsowncoffeeshop; #cheechsowncafe; #cheechsowncoldbrew, among others."