In trademark violation, this bottle has the words "Mumbo Sauce" on it.
In trademark violation, this bottle has the words "Mumbo Sauce" on it.

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Mumbo sauce has been hailed as the “heart and soul of D.C. carryout restaurants” —-a sauce that truly “captures the flavor of the District.”

But according to a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the term “mumbo sauce”—-and perhaps the sweet, barbecue-like sauce itself—-is not a D.C. native, but was legally born in Chicago. The upshot: The Chicago-born Argia B’s Mumbo Sauce can keep its trademark, while the locally based Capital City Mumbo Sauce may have to find a new moniker.

Here’s the back story: In 1958, Argia Collins Sr. trademarked the name of his homemade Mumbo barbecue sauce, which he used in his restaurants and sold to grocery stores and other restaurants around Chicago. Collins’ daughter, Allison Collins, is now the CEO of Select Brands, the manufacturer that sells Argia B’s Mumbo Sauce to more than 600 stores around the Midwest.

In 2011, D.C. native and Annapolis resident Arsha Jones started Capital City Mumbo Sauce, which she bottles and sells online.

Jones filed a petition to cancel the Chicago Mumbo Sauce sauce trademark, arguing that “mumbo” had become the generic name for the sauce that has become a staple in D.C. take-out restaurants like Yum’s and others. Mumbo sauce is also referred to as mambo sauce.

But nearly two years later, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed the petition for cancellation, concluding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the term had become generic.

“When my father created MUMBO BBQ Sauce more than 60 years ago, he made more than just a product—-he laid the foundation of a family and entrepreneurial legacy,” Allison Collins says in a press release.

Jones could not immediately be reached for comment. It’s unclear what  will happen to her company, but she will likely have to change her product’s name and stop selling mumbo sauce souvenirs. (Perhaps, as a mostly painless fix, Jones could simply change her company’s name to Capital City Mambo Sauce?)

So for now, Washingtonians, enjoy your mumbo sauce informally, and refrain from emblazoning your shirts with the words “mumbo sauce”—-because that’s probably illegal too.

Image courtesy of Capital City Mumbo Sauce

Correction: Originally, the photo caption incorrectly stated that this was an act of copyright infringement. As noted in the story, this is a trademark violation.