In the mid-Pacific Mexican state of Jalisco, jarritos, small earthenware pots, are used for many things-- drinking and decoration of homes, primarily. But multi national corporation Novamex has claimed the word for itself -- and is forcing small businesses, like Los Jarritos Restaurant on South Van Ness Avenue, to change their longheld names to accommodate that fact.
Dolores Reyes opened her family run Mission District restaurant in 1988, about the same year that Novamex began importing their popular fruit sodas into the United States. Though the Reyes initially stocked the drink, the decision to name their restaurant ‘Los Jarritos’ was based on their family’s heritage down south. Los Jarritos became a neighborhood fixture, famous for their breakfast chilaquiles.
“Jarritos are an important cultural item in Jalisco,” says Roy Gordet, the Reyes’ attorney. “By naming her restaurant after them, Dolores felt more connected to her family back in Mexico.”
She could have hardly expected that, 15 years later, she’d be fighting her soda supplier over use of this cultural invocation. And they weren't the only ones. Novamex targeted restaurants and taquerias with the name all over the country with legal action -- approximately 30 by Gordet's count.
“In my situation, I think they brought the lawyer because they move by money, not by anything else,” says Edith Marisol-Rivera. Marisol-Rivera’s own Los Jarritos taqueria in Eugene, Oregon, had been open for seven years when she received news from Novamex that she would have to change her businesses’ name- or else.
No one's drinking soda with their late afternoon lunch at Los Jarritos Restaurant
“They were suing us for more than $50,000 if we didn’t change our name,” she says. “We are a small business, and we don’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t think there was a good reason to fight them.” Edith, whose mother had brought hundreds of jarritos when she moved from El Salvador, still decorates her taqueria with the jars- but the sign over the door now read El Jarro Azul. “We thought if they’re located in Texas, they should let people have their own name. But I guess not,” she gives a rueful laugh. “They’re thinking we’re going to steal their name and start making sodas or something like that.”
In contrast, Reyes decided to stand her ground. “We claimed some of their trademark registrations were invalid,” says Gordet. Reyes filed counter claims against Novamex’s, hoping to show that the restaurant had committed no legal infringement on the name Jarritos. The corporation’s case was thrown out by federal judge Jeffery White, but then reinstated by the Ninth Circuit Court. It had been a lengthy legal battle.
Dolores’ struggle resonated with other small business owners. “I talked to Dolores and she said she had the business for 18 years. I told her if she has the money she should fight,” says Marisol-Rivera. “It’s hard to fight these big companies, they’re everywhere now. I gave up because it was a lot of stress for me, but I was glad Senora Dolores kept doing it.”
But eventually, the wearing court battle was too much for Reyes. "The case has now been dismissed by the court," says Gordet. According to the dismissal filed with the court, all claims have been dropped and the restaurant will change its name. “They didn’t expect Dolores Reyes to fight as valiantly as she did,” says Gordet. “But now everybody is going to move on. Generally, that’s considered a good thing.” Novamex refused to comment on the case for this article, saying they were under a confidentiality agreement to remain silent.
Times va cambiando for Los Jarritos Restaurant
On a recent sunny afternoon, a diverse crowd sat in Los Jarritos, enjoying a late lunch. Construction workers, Latino and White, sat at the lunch counter with plates of food and a beer (not surprising, the restaurant stopped carrying the Jarritos soda five or six years ago- around the time the legal battle began). Families lounged at tables, enjoying the sunny atmosphere imparted by the dining room’s colorful decorations- shelves upon shelves of traditional pottery, and strings of small jarritos looped around pillars.
But stuck to the front door, there is a bilingual sign that invokes Novamex’s legal challenge. “Los Jarritos restaurant will be changing its name… but we will be run by the same family members and owners. Thank you for understanding.”
Los Jarritos Restaurant (for now)
901 South Van Ness, SF