Global Copycats

It’s difficult to write this blog post in the aftermath of SOPA/PIPA, but honestly, it’s just a coincidence; I discovered an old hard drive in a drawer this morning that contained photos from my first solo European trip–to Munich and Prague–in 2005. Looking through the photos, I discovered this one:

Dobrá čajovna

Dobrá čajovna, according to Wikipedia, is a teahouse chain originating in Prague. But, two years before I visited Prague, I lived in Burlington, Vermont, where I regularly patronized Dobrá Tea, a teahouse in the center of town. I was told it was a copycat (not a franchise) of the original Prague version – while that may or may not be true, it’s fascinating to me, this element of globalization. Here’s the Burlington teahouse:

Dobrá Tea, Burlington, VT

My other favorites of this phenomenon come from beautiful Syria, where entrepreneurship is (or was, at least) thriving. The first example comes with a small story: In 2007, I moved to Boston from Morocco, upon which I discovered a great little, brand new cafe called In House Café. The owner, whom I quickly befriended, was a Halabi, and he served delicious Halabi food and exquisite cappucinos.

One day, I decided to create a fan page for the cafe, somewhat jokingly. While Googling for a photo of its logo, I was surprised to find not the Boston cafe that I’d become so familiar with, but a very similar one. Even stranger, the photo was taken by someone I know:

In House Coffee, Damascus

As it turned out, In House Coffee was a popular Syrian coffee chain, which I would later discover when I visited in 2009:

In House Coffee, Damascus

Though I can’t find a photo of the Boston edition, BU’s student magazine has a nice writeup of it, with interior photos and a profile of the owner, Ahmed Dairy, who apparently also owns a cafe in Aleppo. No mention, however, of In House Coffee.

But wait! It gets even weirder. Apparently there is also an In House Coffee, with the same logo as the Syrian one (the Boston cafe’s logo is similar, but not identical), in Worcester, Massachusetts!

In House Coffee, Worcester, MA

Now, those darn Halabis are awfully creative. After sharing this anecdote with a friend from Aleppo, he told me of another one…the story of Crema Cafe. What makes this story particularly strange is that it has the same Aleppo-Boston connection as In House.

In Harvard Square, Cambridge (MA), there is a lovely little cafe called Crema, which caters to the local student population, serving delicious baked goods and scrumptious coffees. As it turns out, in Aleppo, Syria, there is also a lovely little cafe called Crema, which caters to the local student population…well, you get the point. No one knows which cafe came first, but I’ve heard it suggested that, in this case, the Cantabrigian cafe is actually the replica. The two cafes’ logos are identical.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find photos of the Aleppo cafe, but here is the Cambridge location:

Crema Cafe, Cambridge

I think what fascinates me most about this phenomenon is not the copyright issues, but the fact that, before the Internet, this would have been an incredibly easy venture. Find an excellent cafe or restaurant, memorize it, and replicate it at home…instant business model! Nowadays, even if you can get away with it legally, you’ve got sleuths like me ready to expose you for your unoriginality.

If anyone has photos of the Aleppo location of Crema Cafe, do let me know.

3 replies on “Global Copycats”

Interesting post. I would love to understand the trademark laws and trade agreements we have with Syria. It leads to an interesting discussion about the ethics and morality of intellectual property. If intellectual property is morally derived, as much European law follows, then this copycating is appalling. If intellectual property is simply legal incentive for progress, and no law prohibits US businesses from copying Syrian IP, then these copycats are good businessmen. But since much of this relates to trademarks, trademark could be argued as protecting the consumer from misrepresentation – separate from other forms of IP. It would be great to sit in on round table discussion, with people much more knowledgeable than myself, as they weigh in politically, legally, and philosophically.

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