Lost Dog Coffee in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington have coexisted for 16 years without any problems. But something has clearly changed.
Last Wednesday, Garth Janssen, owner of Lost Dog Coffee, received a cease-and-desist letter from the law firm Driscoll & Seltzer on behalf of its client Lost Dog Cafe. The letter demands that Janssen stop using the Lost Dog name.
“I felt like puking when I got it,” says Janssen.
The letter implies that Lost Dog Cafe’s owners, Ross Underwood and Pam McAlwee, only recently learned of Janssen’s business. But Janssen says throughout the years, he has served employees from the Arlington restaurant visiting Shepherdstown who have joked about the two enterprises’ similar names.
Janssen can only guess why Lost Dog Cafe sent the cease-and-desist letter, since he says its lawyer, Richard Driscoll, didn’t offer much of an explanation when the two spoke on the phone.
“He was really curt with me,” says Janssen. “He said, ‘You might as well just do this, because my client’s got the capital and we’ll pursue this. You don’t have a leg to stand on.’”
Janssen says his coffee shop’s inclusion in The Washingtonian’s Best of Shepherdstown feature in July may have triggered the riff, since he says Driscoll alluded to the fact that recently, too many customers have been mistaking Lost Dog Cafe for Lost Dog Coffee.
Janssen also speculates that the Arlington restaurant’s sudden sensitivity about the shared name may have something to do with its recent expansion. According to its website, Lost Dog Cafe opened a second location in McLean last year and a third outpost in South Arlington in January, and plans to open a fourth location in Dunn Loring this summer. (By comparison, Janssen and his teenage sons, along with four employees, run his small shop in Shepherdstown.)
Reached by phone, Driscoll said he had instructed his clients not to speak to media. Asked if he could explain why Lost Dog Cafe’s owners are taking action now after so many years of peacefully coexisting with Lost Dog Coffee, Driscoll said, “It’s not that I can’t. It’s that I decline to.”
Janssen isn’t going down without a fight. He has launched a campaign to protect his business. With the help of a friend, he set up the website lostdogcoffee.us, which contains information about the feud with Lost Dog Cafe, including a copy of the cease-and-desist letter. In explaining his campaign on the website, Janssen writes: “To beat up on a local company when no harm is being done is outrageous.”