Last year, George Washington University sandwich lovers were caught in the middle of a trademark battle when cold-cut powerhouse Potbelly Sandwich Works filed suit against alleged copycat Coggins’ Sandwich Manufactory (“Hero Worship,” 3/4/05).
Now students have returned to campus to find that the Coggins’ is now a Potbelly.
“I can see why they sued them,” says Prithvi Jagannath, a GW student who braved the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto to score a sandwich. “The food is not too dissimilar.”
Others are more enthusiastic about the national brand. “Potbelly’s is 100 times better,” says Kishell Alexander, another diner, who characterized the chain’s customer service as “the bomb.” She’s also excited about Potbelly’s entertainment series, which on a recent afternoon included an earnest fellow strumming an acoustic guitar while invoking Bob Marley to remind all that “everything’s gonna be all right.”
“They treat you better,” says Alexander.
Post-litigation, Coggins’-philes looking for the restaurant’s not-so-unique quasi-industrial gustatory experience are out of luck. According to Los Angeles–based attorney John Rawls, whose firm represented Potbelly in its suit against Coggins’, the defeated sandwich shop doesn’t have much of a future.
“We have a stipulated judgment in court that prohibits the defendants from opening restaurants that have a similar appearance to Potbelly’s,” says Rawls. “I think both parties are happy, and I think it’s quite fair. We have protected our unique look.”
GW’s involvement in the sandwich switcheroo remains a mystery. University spokesperson Tracy Schario says the school was not named in the suit or involved in any contract negotiations but was “certainly aware of what was going on.” Rawls, for his part, characterizes GW as “just a landlord.” Both he and Schario say that confidentiality issues prevent them from disclosing further details, and neither Coggins’ parent company—Ohio-based Farro Enterprises—nor its counsel returned calls for comment.
Legal niceties aside, the sandwiches keep a-comin’ in Foggy Bottom. One palate, Jared Shapiro’s, was not sensitive enough to register any change.
“There’s not much of a difference that I could tell,” he says, removing a lone iPod earbud to weigh in on the Potbelly vs. Coggins’ showdown. But Shapiro, gulping a soda, agrees that the trademark-infringement lawsuit was justified.
“It was blatantly obvious,” he says.CP